Officials remind residents that Oregon is a beautifully forested, yet highly flammable state.
Story Via Keep Oregon Green
Spring is a time for planting, spring cleaning around the house and eliminating accumulated debris. When the weather is cool and plants are flush with green leaves and blooms, fire usually isn’t on the minds of most Oregonians. But, fire is on the minds of wildland firefighting agencies tasked to protect lives, property and Oregon’s natural resources this summer in the midst of a persistent pandemic and a predicted statewide drought.
Fire officials beat the drum in May and June to remind residents that we live in a beautifully forested, yet highly flammable state. They educate landowners and the public about the threat of wildfire and actions they can take to lower their risk. Through these collaborative prevention education efforts, fire staff can achieve more cooperation from the public than is possible alone, and bring an added measure of safety to communities once fire season arrives.
The Firewise USA® Program, for example, educates homeowners about wildland fire and offers steps to reduce their risk. It’s a perfect fit for communities and neighborhoods willing to implement risk reduction measures that meet their unique needs and maintain a level of fire readiness every year. Communities create the programs themselves with cooperative assistance from state forestry agencies and local fire staff. The hope of a community program like this is to prevent the large fires Oregon has recently experienced; particularly those that have forced evacuations and still haunt the communities they destroyed.
The Camp Fire that burned through Paradise and Concow, California, in November of 2018 raises the question in every Oregon homeowner’s mind: Could it happen here? Absolutely. We have vast forested landscapes, sloping terrain and hot, dry summers. Like the coronavirus, wildfire also acts like a contagion, taking advantage of vulnerabilities on the home or in the landscaping. This fire was the deadliest and most destructive in California history. It was the most expensive natural disaster in the world in 2018 in terms of insured losses.
A wildfire follows fuel, whether it is the home itself, dense flammable landscaping vegetation, an overgrown vacant lot or adjacent forest. The good news is you can prevent fire-spread to or from your home by creating good defensible space. However, if your neighbors are not doing the same, you are just as vulnerable to a wildfire as they are.
How would you and your neighbors fare in the face of a wildfire? The answer is critical; because, there may not be enough firefighters to protect every home from a massive fire event due to lack of resources and demands elsewhere. And insurance cannot replace the irreplaceable.
More and more homeowners are choosing to live in the wildland-urban interface, and that choice involves risk. Defending homes in remote forested areas significantly drives up the risk and the cost of fighting large wildfires. Fences, houses and other property modifications are ‘speed bumps’ that force change in tactics and turn a lightning fire into one that must be put out to save lives and property. Homeowners and communities need to take greater responsibility for their own structure protection against wildfires.
Creating and maintaining defensible space can be as simple as some of these following steps. Within a minimum of 30 feet of the home:
- Keep your lawn short and green if possible
- Trim and space shrubs
- Create a fire barrier of irrigated, wisely-chosen shrubs and trees to help absorb heat and deflect embers
- Swap out flammable landscaping plants with a more fire-resistant variety
- Prune low tree branches to lessen the chances of a ground fire reaching the house
- Pay attention to the nooks and crannies around the homes and eliminate the fire starters: dryer lint, fir or pine needles, branches and leaves hiding in roof shingles, gutters, foundation cracks, landscaping shrubs and underneath decks or outdoor stairs.
Whether you do at least two or all of the steps recommended by fire prevention experts, you will be reducing the risk to your family and your property. The more people clean up their property, the less likely a fire will spread from one home to the next. Cooperation and shared responsibility among homeowners are essential.
When the next Oregon wildfire strikes, we hope to read a different kind of newspaper headline: “Wildfire passed; entire community emerged unscathed.” There are powerful lessons to be learned from the stories of community loss post-fire, but imagine what we can learn from the homes and communities that survive. It is possible to have minimal structural losses in our state, even in busy fire years. It’s an ambitious goal, but we dream big here in Oregon.
Firewise USA®Communities offers expert solutions to communities based on their individual needs and resources, and can provide you with detailed information on building and modifying homes and their surroundings to improve their chances of surviving a wildfire. Free materials provided online at www.firewise.org, and defensible space information can be obtained from the Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal and local fire departments.
Excellent sources exist on the web: www.fireadapted.org, www.firewise.org, https://www.oregon.gov/ODF/Fire/Pages/default.aspx; www.oregon.gov/OSP/SFM/index.shtml.
To find out what Keep Oregon Green is doing to help educate communities about wildfires, visit www.keeporegongreen.org.