The time is now: Planning for future wildfires shouldn’t be delayed

May 2021 Posted in Columnists & Opinion, Community, Outdoor Life

By Melissa Wagoner

Weeks out from the official start of summer and fire experts are already warning Oregonians of another potentially difficult fire season. Which is why Carrie Berger, a fire program manager with the OSU Extension service, has recently partnered with both state and local agencies to launch a series of webinars titled, “Fire Aware. Fire Prepared,” to help get communities ready.

“Last summer’s wildfire events impacted most Oregonians and we learned that everyone living in Oregon should be prepared for a wildfire emergency,” Berger said.

Each webinar is offered both live – every Wednesday, now through June 16 from 12 to 1 p.m. – and recorded on the OSU Extension Service’s website. With topics ranging from how to assess personal fire risk to community-wide preparation and managing emergency resources.

“By attending the series, each participant will have an increased knowledge and awareness of fire preparedness and have the skills to engage in activities that create a more fire prepared situation for their family, home, and community,” Berger said. 

Because the time to prepare is now.

“By starting now, you’ll give yourself time,” Berger stressed. 

Time to prepare homes and other buildings by assessing vents for properly fitted metal mesh barriers, relocating woodpiles to a safe distance from buildings, planting fire-resistant vegetation and eliminating possible fuel sources – especially those created by February’s ice storm.  

“I can imagine there are a lot of broken branches and/or downed trees,” Berger speculated. “Branches and downed trees are fuel and will burn in a wildfire. So, start early by trimming/cleaning up branches, cleaning roofs and gutters… and so much more.”

Because many homes are not located in isolation, the actions of neighbors and other nearby community members can have an influence on overall fire danger as well. The best way to encourage cooperation is with respectful, open dialogue. 

“You could be the ‘spark’ your community needs to become a Firewise community,” Berger said. “Think about conducting a community risk assessment. The National Fire Protection Association offers a great online tutorial to evaluate your community’s strengths and vulnerabilities to wildfire. Also, check out your Community Wildfire Protection Plan – every county in Oregon should have a prepared plan.”

These plans address items such as wildfire response, hazard mitigation, community preparedness and structure protection. While all of these items are extremely important, Berger also urges communities to prepare for heavy smoke. Because even if the actual fire doesn’t pose a threat, the smoke caused by large wildfires can be both long-lasting and harmful – a situation most of Oregon encountered during 2020’s Labor Day fires.

“HEPA filters were in short supply or even sold out,” Berger said. Urging, “Start planning for cleaner air space now while supplies are available.” 

Which is a good rule of thumb for all emergency supplies. Candles, drinking water, propane, generators and even canned food and toilet paper can become difficult, if not impossible, to obtain during community-wide emergencies. It’s best to stock these items in an easy to grab emergency kit ahead of time. Because the next emergency is never a matter of if but when – especially when it comes to wildfires.

Fire Aware. Fire Prepared: Wildfire Wednesdays

Presented by OSU Extension Service Wednesdays, 12 to 1 p.m. through June 16. Free. Recordings available.

www.extension.oregonstate.edu/fire-program/online-webinar-guideFire Safety

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