JACKSON COUNTY, Ore. – Drive down Interstate-5 during open burn season and you’ll see the hillsides dotted with columns of smoke. Most are contained, and many are legal, but they often get called in to 911 dispatchers anyway.
When that happens, firefighters are obligated to respond. Since each truck is built to handle a variety of emergencies, a truck sent to an open burn is one that could have been put to use elsewhere. Many of those reported as grass fires are actually well under control.
“Many many times it’s nothing more than somebody doing just that, just trying to dispose of that pile of leaves or brush like they want to,” said Ron Nelson, Battalion Chief with Medford Fire.
Now that open burn season is underway, reports of fires, whether legitimate or not, are a very common occurrence — as in once or twice a day for some stations. Because most open burns occur in rural areas or in the surrounding hills, that can mean quite a chase.
“We’re here for that, and we don’t mind doing it, but people will sit at their homes and see a smoke and attempt to guess where it’s coming from. And that’s when we go on smoke chases,” said Brian Weidman, a Paramedic at Fire District #5.
Those smoke chases can slow down response time in an actual emergency. Firefighters say it’s best to tell your neighbors if you’re going to burn. And if you do call 911, don’t be afraid to give updates.
“If it’s real close to where you live and it’s safe for you to do so, take your cell phone and wander over to your neighbor’s house after you’ve called 911,” said Nelson. “Give us an update on what you’re finding.”