- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) - Fire bosses in Southern Oregon are bracing for a season that could start earlier, last longer and burn hotter than usual in a part of the world known for major summer fires.

“It seems inevitable,” said Allen Mitchell, fire management officer for the Medford District of the federal Bureau of Land Management. “It will depend on lightning.”

The snowpack in the mountains is at a record low in the southern part of the Cascade Range and the Siskiyou Mountains, and the region is in the second year of drought.

The dearth of moisture in the middle elevations of the mountains means the sun will cook hillsides into tinderboxes waiting for a lighting strike, said National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Sandler. There were 130,000 strikes last year.

Fire managers stepping up their preparations and changing tactics, the Medford Mail Tribune (http://bit.ly/1Mg1Y6G) reported Friday.

Mitchell said Forest Service and BLM teams are training firefighters earlier than most years while trying to amass resources.

Crews will need larger safety zones because of the buildup of primed fuels ranging from downed and dead trees to brush that was killed during intense freezes, Mitchell said, and fire crews may have to find new attack plans.

“We have to rethink our risk management,” he said. “We’re re-inventing stuff as we go.”

Mitchell’s assessments came during a Thursday wildfire conditions briefing for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, of Oregon, who also announced the securing of more than $2 million in U.S. Forest Service grants to curb wildfire risks and improve drinking water in the Ashland watershed.

This latest installment in the decade-old Ashland Forest Resiliency Project will allow contract crews to clear the forest floor of hot-burning brush and woody debris in thinning and burning projects designed by the Forest Service and implemented by private contractors.

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Information from: Mail Tribune, http://www.mailtribune.com/

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