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Wildland crews say wet winter could cause challenging fire season

Oregon Department of Forestry, Mar. 15th 2017, (KTVL/Megan Allison)

MEDFORD -- Heavy rain has caused vegetation to grows across the Rogue Valley this winter.

Melissa Cano with the Oregon Department of Forestry said crews are on high alert for when the land dries out this summer.

"When it's a thinner fuel or cheat grass it usually creates a problem four to six weeks before any other plant types do and it stays drier four to six weeks after. So we usually have more problems with the brush fires and grass fires that happen in our area," Cano said.

Brett Lutz is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. He said right now snowpack in the Rogue-Umpqua basin is 125 percent of normal, but warm weather can burn this off quickly.

"Last year was a pretty good snowpack year, we were above normal, nearly as above normal as we are this year. Last year we had that really good snowpack and then it did melt faster than normal probably by about two or three weeks," Lutz said.

The meteorologist said they don't expect above normal spring temperatures this year, but there is a risk for fire conditions when the weather goes from drought to heavy rain and back again.

"You end up with more material that gets knocked down out of the trees and more trees are broken and that kind of stuff...when those do dry out they are of course fuel," Lutz said.

Last year, the Rogue Valley dealt with mostly timber fires. ODF said it's hard to say what challenges this summer will bring.

"You can never really predict a fire season. We're calling it normal, but what is normal anymore? It seems like every year that normal gets higher and higher," Cano said.

Wildland crews say it takes only a couple days to dry out a field of grass entirely.

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