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Nehalem-area blaze signals wildfire season start

Photo caption: A brush fire cuts across a field in the Nehalem area. – Photo: Hal McMahan

A man lost control of a permitted burn in the Nehalem area this past week, resulting in a multi-agency response to extinguish the blaze.

Just after 4 p.m. on March 20, Nehalem Bay Fire & Rescue was dispatched to a brush fire that was sparked when a gust of wind caused flames from a controlled burn to spread. Fire Chief Perry Sherbaugh said the man had not followed burn permit restrictions that dictate how far a fire should be from other standing vegetation.

The fire quickly shot into the adjacent estuary land, scorching around an acre of land. Conditions were great for the fire – dry, dead grass served as nature’s kindling, facilitating rapid movement. Battling the fire in a muddy swamp was less than ideal for firefighters, though.

“Fortunately, it stayed within that area,” Sherbaugh said. “If it had jumped that last little stream, it could have gone up the slope to where house were.” The fire chief added that this was the first wildland fire of what could be a busy season, depending on how the weather acts this year.

Last year was much drier than normal and 11 Oregon counties received an emergency drought declaration.

Sherbaugh said slogging through the marshland presented firefighters with a challenge, but they were able to get the fire put down. He reminded those with burn permits to mind the safe distance guidelines, noting that fires under 2 feet by 3 feet there should be 25 feet of clearance. Fires larger than that require 50 feet of clearance.

Stressing the need to withhold from burning on windy days, Sherbaugh also said to always have a water hose ready when burning, and never leave a fire unattended. And you must have a burn permit before burning.

A reminder for the service-minded reader, Nehalem Bay Fire & Rescue is always looking for volunteer firefighters. At this time, there is also room for resident volunteers who can live rent-free at the fire station while developing firefighting skills. Visit the fire station for more information and an application.