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Oregon's long, costly fire season nears end

By Joe Burns
Published On: Oct 09 2012 08:58:06 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 09 2012 09:24:23 PM CDT

Fire officials make a pitch Tuesday to Senator Wyden hoping to get more federal support for the high fire danger in Central Oregon.

BEND, Ore. -

Over the last month, the Pole Creek Fire has burned nearly 27,000 acres. On Tuesday, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden got a look on the rest of fire season and what may be coming in future years.

Efforts on the Pole Creek Fire have shifted to rehabilitation.

According to Wyden, 1.48 million acres have burned in Oregon over the last six months.

The firefighting cost? $250 million.

And for many of our Central Oregon firefighters, its been a long season.

The 2012 fire season in Central Oregon can best be described as what Wyden calls the perfect storm.

"You've got a long hot dry fire season you've got reduced resources, and it sort of all comes together," Wyden said.

About 46,000 acres have been burned in Central Oregon this season, and more than half of that on the Pole Creek Fire alone.

"The fire had so much fuel in it that it was hard to fight," said Deschutes County Commissioner Alan Unger.

Unger and colleague Tammy Baney were just two of the officials getting the senator up to speed on the fire.

"We get fires like this in the later part of our season," said Alex Robertson, acting fire staff officer for the Deschutes National Forest. "Without a season-slowing event or season-ending event, when fuel conditions are at their ripest, it is very difficult for us to fight fire."

While there have been 250 fire starts, the number is down from last year.

Most were small, spotted and taken care of quickly.

Just three:: the Geneva 12, the Butte and Pole Creek fires burned out of control.

"We are really average," Robertson said. "Our firefighters spent a lot of time helping others. We brought them back when we started drying out, and we caught most of the fires that we had, that we did get very small."

The cost of the Pole Creek Fire fight is $17 million.

"Suppression is expensive," said Deputy Forest Supervisor Shane Jeffries. "Everything from the aerial resources that you see -- helicopters, airplanes, to the men and women on the ground."

Resources cost a lot.

Wyden, who serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he's going back to Washington with more information that he hopes will lead to more resources.

"The forest treatment work that they have done in the past, the thinning work in particular, clearly paved big dividends this year, because the fires could have been much worse," Wyden said

So what does the future hold for firefighting in our area?.

Forest officials say they don't see things getting any better.

As the fire season gets longer, mixed with extended drought periods and the limited resources, it could get even worse.

One fire official predicts a 20 to 25 million acre fire year for the U.S. in the next 10 years

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