MEDFORD, Ore-- According to Natalie Weber, the public information officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest, Southern Oregon is about five and a half weeks away from the start of its typical wildfire season. This comes though as droughts across the southern part of the state continue to increase the chances of a wildfire.
"When we start off a season this dry, it typically isn't a good sign," said Weber. "But condition can change very easily here in southern Oregon. For example, we could get some rain here in the next few weeks and that could change everything for us."
According to the National Weather Service in Medford, multiple counties across Southern Oregon including, Jackson, Klamath, Lake, Douglas and Curry counties, are experiencing some sort of drought. This ranges from abnormally dry all the way to an exceptional drought.
In Medford, the National Weather Service says that the area is 2.91 inches of rain below what it typically experiences in a year, but is a little over nine inches under when it comes to a two-year model.
In Klamath Falls, that number increases to about a 12 inch deficit of rain in the last two years, which is why most of Klamath County is right now in either a severe, extreme or exceptional drought.
"This looks like a trend," said Ryan Sandler, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Medford. "If you look back at the last 25 to 30 years you would certainly see that this is a trend towards dryness."
For the upcoming wildfire season, Weber says that this means that more fuels will be available for the flames to consume if a wildfire starts.
"When it comes to a drought we rely on that moisture in the fuels to keep a fire from burning as quickly," said Weber. "So when you don't have that moisture and you get into that drought, that's when things can take off a lot faster."
And when it comes to the long-term effects of the drought, Sandler says that we could expect to see longer and more severe wildfire seasons in the future.
"The start of the fire season will start earlier and the end will be later," said Sandler. "So that allows for a greater chance of having more fires and a worse fire season."
According to Sandler, from 2000-2012, there were only a few years of unhealthy smoke in the Rogue Valley. But since 2013, in six out of the last eight years, the Rogue Valley has experienced unhealthy smoke during the summer time.
"That's an indicator that fires are becoming more frequent, larger and are burning nearby," said Sandler.
Although Sandler understands that the drought does have an impact on future wildfires, he also mentioned that lightning strikes have also played an important role in wildfires starting, especially during the summer months.
According to forecasts on Thursday, wetter weather is on its way to Southern Oregon and will provide some much needed rain. But future models also show that dryer conditions could be returning to the area very soon.