Fires are nothing new in Eastern Oregon, but that doesn't diminish the dangers wildland fires can cause to the landscape, people, property and livestock. This summer, throughout the West, there are more than warnings, there are flames, embers, smoke and ash. And there is a growing casualty list.

For the past several weeks, the sun literally has been obscured by a persistent low haze which hangs over the area - a product of fires burning on all sides of Umatilla County at one time or another.

The list of causes is diverse; lightning strikes, electrical problems, human carelessness and farm equipment working summer wheat harvest. What is the same is the devastation and fear that grips communities when the natural beauty of forests, farmlands and countryside turns to flame.

Our region is fortunate to have the best wildland firefighters who do the dangerous work of protecting homes and businesses when fire strikes. But those brave men and women are stretched thin by the dozens of fires that have burned, or are now burning in California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah and beyond. Most locations in the Western states are suffering from drought conditions, which has left vegetation tinder-dry. In this, our warmest and driest season, we rely on those brave men and women who battle the flames from the ground and from the air, often many miles from their own homes and families.

There are things we can do to minimize the danger to our homes, families and property. Property owners must do their part to keep flammable vegetation away from homes and structures and provide a defensible space should flames threaten.

Those who work, and play, in the outdoors also must take extra care. The very tools which we use to make our work easier - chain saws, ATVs, trucks, combines, lighters and mowers - can spark a fire that can grow quickly and devastate dozens, hundreds or thousands of acres.

It's inevitable that fires in forestlands also will call into question the recent history of firefighting practices and logging restrictions in timberlands, which have left forests from border to border strewn with fire-fueling vegetation in the form of overgrown underbrush, dead trees and old trees that can burn hot and fast. That debate must evolve into forest-use policies that allow for timber harvest that will remove some of that fuel load and permit salvage logging.

Fire in open terrain and forests of the West is a normal, natural and a healthy necessity. It's part of nature's cycle and leads to regeneration of new, healthy vegetation. However, there is no comfort in the knowledge that fire is normal, natural and healthy for the landscape, when flames are barreling toward you, your family, your home or your business.

So be on the lookout for fire and don't add to the flames Mother Nature provides naturally through lightning strikes. Take steps to protect your property should fire burn your way and take part in the debate on how to effectively manage our natural resources for the health and safety of people and nature.

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