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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wildfire: It’s not if, but when

Sept. 16, 2014
News contact:
Matt Flock
Community Wildfire Forester
Oregon Dept. of Forestry

This fire season has shown to be a long and grueling one. Stretching across the state from Klamath Falls to La Grande to Veneta, it started early and seems not to have an end in sight yet. Defensible space around your home is the critical piece to improve the survivability of your home in the event of a wildfire, and there is still time to create it this fire season.

“Creating defensible space around your home is the best way to make your home more survivable in the wake of a wildfire,” says Oregon Department of Forestry’s Matt Flock. “The more you can do to make your home defensible now, will be critical if a wildfire hits your community and you’re not home.”

When a wildfire starts, there is little to no warning. Defensible space is the way to prepare our homes and property to have a fighting chance in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), said the Community Wildfire Forester.

During a wildfire, firefighters work intensely to prepare homes in the path of a wildfire. The more that landowners can accomplish before the incident happens, the less time firefighters will need to spend preparing the homes and can focus instead on stopping the fire.

“It’s the little things you can do that play a key role in keeping your home, family and community safe,” he said.

Wildfires that occur in the WUI often are started by human activity and then spread to the forest. Corvallis recently had an 86-acre fire on the north side of town that threatened many homes. For residents, it was a sobering moment of what fire can do and how real it can become to communities near wooded areas.

Once underway a fire follows the fuel, whether it is trees or houses. Creating defensible space around a house is a proven way to make it less vulnerable to wildfire. The National Firewise Communities Program has great tips for WUI residents to refer to. The program says “Defensible space” simply means to:
  •  Maintain the landscape around a home to reduce fire danger.
  •  Provide safe access to firefighters so they can protect it.
To create defensible space, Firewise advises to start with the house and work your way out:

Check the roof and rain gutters
Leaves and needles in gutters are very susceptible to the ember showers that commonly occur at the head of a raging wildfire. Cleaning that material out from the gutters and off the roof of your home will make it much more difficult for a fire to start there. 

Remove fuel sources close to the house
The perimeter of the home and attachments out to about five feet are vulnerable if organic mulch, arborvitae or other flammable plants are located in that area. A wind-cast ember or a creeping ground fire could ignite fuels in this zone and carry flames to the structure.

Maintain landscaping in the middle zone
Plants in the zone about 30 to 100 feet from the house should be low-growing and well irrigated. Firewise advises to:
  •  Leave 30 feet between clusters of two to three trees, or 20 feet between individual trees.
  •  Encourage a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees.
  •  Create fuel breaks, such as driveways, gravel walkways and lawns.
  •  Prune trees up six to 10 feet from the ground.
Pruning trees in this way inhibits a wildfire from climbing into the crowns and carrying flames from tree to tree, and eventually to the house. Doing that allows the fire to stay on the ground where firefighters can fight the fire and keep its spread to a minimum.

Outer Zone
The zone 100 to 200 feet from the home requires less attention but still should be looked at for ways to create an outer buffer to wildfire. Trees may need to be thinned, though less intensively than those closer in.
  •  Remove any heavy accumulations of woody debris.
  •  Thin out clusters of small trees and remove ladder fuels that can climb into tree canopies.
  •  Reduce the density of tall trees so canopies are not touching.
Homeowner / Firefighter access
Prune trees along the driveway and trim back shrubs so that the egress to leave your home is not blocked by intense fire behavior. Firefighter will need to use that same road to get into your home as well. Keeping it trimmed and open allows them to do their job and attack the fire as well.

More tips on how to create defensible space around your home and protect it from wildfire can be found at:

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The purpose of this blog is to provide breaking news about wildfire activity on the forestlands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry. We invite you to post questions or comments about current wildfires. Please keep your posts civil and free of profanity.

Current wildfire info

National weather forecasters predictions that Oregon would see above average temperatures and below average rainfall in the summer of 2018 proved true. Almost all of Oregon was abnormally dry this summer, with a majority of the state in moderate to severe drought. Many areas posted record high temperatures or record strings of hot days. These conditions set the stage for potentially large, fast-moving wildfires.

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Protection jurisdiction
The Oregon Dept. of Forestry protects 16 million acres of private and public forestlands from wildfire. This includes all private forestlands in Oregon as well as state and local government-owned forests, along with 2.8 million acres of federal Bureau of Land Management lands in the western part of the state. In total there are about 30.4 million acres of forest in Oregon.

Fire suppression policy
The department fights fire aggressively, seeking to put out most fires at 10 acres or smaller. This approach minimizes damage to the timber resource and fish and wildlife habitat, and protects lives and property. It also saves money. While suppressing large fires can cost millions of dollars, economic and environmental damage from wildfires can be many times greater.


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Oregon Dept. of Forestry's public information officers in Salem, Ore., maintain this blog. During the wildfire season, we spend much of our time reporting on fires and firefighting to news media and the public.