When wildfires flare up, fire managers in Portland are ready to help

Wildfire season is underway in Oregon.

The two biggest fires in the Pacific Northwest are currently burning in the state - one in Central Oregon and one in Southern Oregon.

Both of those large fires were started by humans. In the Southern Oregon fire, a man pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to arson and reckless burning charges after prosecutors said he sparked the fire.

Bend, Ore. TV station KTVZ reported that the fire was started when the man left a campfire unattended.

It may not be as hot or dry in the Willamette Valley and SW Washington, but that doesn't mean we're out of danger.

Consider this: while on a recent walk with the dog through Vancouver, this reporter found an unattended campfire burning at 9 a.m. on a Sunday. There was nobody in sight, making it a serious fire risk.

"Some people just have never learned how to put a campfire out. They think just a little water and it's a done deal and they walk away," said Robin Demario with the Northwest Fire Coordination Center. "Unfortunately, when that happens we get wildfires."

At the Northwest Fire Coordination Center they keep track of wildfires in the region and the firefighters assigned to extinguish them.

"We'll always leave resources strategically located through the region in case something else pops," said Carol Connolly with the coordination center.

Sometimes their tactics are decidedly old-school, like a giant paper map with magnets and cards showing where different fire crews are at any given time.

"It's that quick visual. In this day and age of computers and everything else, sometimes as you know, pencil and paper, a board and magnets work just as good," said Connolly.

Crews were ready to go when fire surrounded Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and crawled towards the Deschutes River. They were also ready for that fire in Southern Oregon.

"There were five air tankers dropping retardant on that fire. They dropped 20 loads of retardant," Demario said. "If they hadn't been available think about how much bigger it would have gotten."

Fire crews know that lightning-caused fires will inevitably pop up, but when people get involved in starting fires things can really heat up.

"Any human-caused fire that starts now is just taxing the system, taxing the resources we have on hand to be able to fight those fires," Demario said.

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