Drying conditions prompted the Oregon Department of Forestry's Central Oregon District to declare the start of wildfire season starting this Friday morning, June 14, 2013, nearly two weeks earlier than last year. A recent uptick in small fires led District Forester George Ponte to make the call.

"From the first of the year to May, the district has had only about 30 percent of normal precipitation," he said. "We considered declaring fire season in early May, but we experienced some cool, wet weather during May which bought us some time. The current and forecasted weather is more summerlike, so fuels are drying quickly and fire risk is increasing."

The declaration of fire season imposes certain restrictions on recreational and work activities in the forest. Industrial operators are required to have firefighting equipment on site. Since restrictions may vary across the state, it is advisable to check with the nearest Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) office for rules specific to the local area.  

The Central Oregon District has tightened fire safety rules to prevent human-caused fires. Open burning is prohibited without a permit issued by ODF or a local fire department. However, most fire departments have already suspended issuing such permits. Homeowners considering burning yard waste must check with their local fire department about current burning restrictions prior to lighting any fires

Wildfire safety restrictions can change quickly during the season and vary from one jurisdiction to another. Recreationists planning to visit National Forests, U.S. Bureau of Land Management or other federal lands are advised to check with those offices for information on current restrictions.

"I think most folks are well aware that much of eastern Oregon is experiencing drought conditions," Ponte said. "The professionals that forecast fire conditions anticipate higher than normal potential for large, destructive wildfires not only in Oregon but in much of the west. The number of fires we get is largely a factor of how much lightning there is during fire season. But any fire that starts, whether caused by lightning or human activities, will have potential of becoming a large and destructive one."

In 2012, the district declared fire season on June 25.