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Although it is only May, weather conditions are prime for potential fires in the mid-valley as high temperatures and low humidity are forecast here this week.

Mid-valley fire officials took steps Wednesday to reduce the risk of wildfires in coming days, instituting a backyard burn ban from Thursday through Sunday, with the possibility of extending it depending on Monday's weather.

Temperatures in the high 80s to low 90s, a humidity level of less than 25% and lack of precipitation in the immediate forecast led to the action.

Another dangerous factor for fire could enter the picture on Thursday: The National Weather Service office in Portland has issued a red flag warning from 1 to 8 p.m. Thursday for the mid-valley. Forecasters said Thursday could bring consistent winds of 15 mph, with gusts topping 20.

A red flag warning is issued when forecasters believe weather conditions could allow fires to break out and quickly spread.

The backyard burning ban is in effect in Linn, Benton, Polk, Marion and Yamhill counties.

John Bradner, the Albany fire chief who also serves as the head of the county's Fire Defense Board, said he will evaluate weather conditions Monday to determine whether to continue the ban.

The ban includes fires on privately owned lands as well as those protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have not yet initiated a ban on the land they manage.

Restrictions include:

• Backyard burning (yard debris, for example).

• Agricultural burning, regulated through the Department of Agriculture. People can contact their local fire agency for special situations.

• Land clearing or slash burning.

Individuals found to be in violation of these requirements during the ban could be held liable for the cost of extinguishing a fire and for any resulting property damage.

The ban is not a total burn ban; recreational fires, including residential fire pits, propane fire pits and both gas and charcoal grills, are still permitted. However, fire officials advise using caution with these devices.

For more wildfire prevention information and restrictions, people can visit Keep Oregon Green at www.keeporegongreen.org and the Oregon Department of Forestry at www.oregon.gov.

Before performing any backyard or agricultural burning, residents must call the Burn Information Line at 541-451-1904 and select the appropriate option to hear the daily restrictions. Failure to follow burn regulations can result in fines from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

To report an illegal burn or a dangerous fire, dial 911 and provide dispatchers with a description of the fire (estimated size, speed and nearby exposures) and a detailed location, including the best access point for responding apparatus.

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Those living in rural areas are asked to maintain defensible space by monitoring growth surrounding homes and structures, and to maintain adequate access for firefighting equipment.

In addition, fire officials urged people to:

• Know fire risks and obey fire restrictions, such as campfire bans.

• Avoid parking or driving on dry grass; hot vehicles can start a wildfire.

• Not use candles, fireworks, tiki torches or other open flames in wildland areas. 

• Remember that sky lanterns are illegal in Oregon airspace.

• Dispose of smoking material in deep, sturdy ashtrays.

• Make sure butts and ashes are extinguished with water.

• Never discard butts on the ground or in vegetation.

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Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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