Tuesday, August 15, 2017

7 steps to avoid starting a wildfire during your Eclipse2017 travels

Arrive early, stay put, leave late; don’t let your vehicle start a wildfire.

The August 21 Solar Eclipse is certain to be memorable. With this worldwide event heading to Oregon during the peak of fire season, ODOT and the Oregon Department of Forestry want to make sure YOUR memories don’t include starting a wildfire.

In the days surrounding the event, an estimated one million eclipse enthusiasts from all over the world are expected to travel within Oregon’s path of totality. And with 70% of wildfires caused by people, the odds are not in our favor.

Luckily, you can do your part to better the odds and prevent wildfires by taking a few precautions:

  1. Secure tow chains. Make sure all vehicle parts are secure and not dragging. A loose safety tow chain or muffler striking a rock or pavement can send a shower of sparks into dry vegetation.
  2. Check your tires and make sure they receive regular maintenance. Once a flat tire shreds, the bare wheel can shower sparks on roadside vegetation.
  3. Maintain your exhaust system. A worn-out catalytic converter can cast off extremely hot pieces of material into dry roadside vegetation.
  4. Check underneath your car. Make sure it’s free of oil leaks and that fuel and brake lines are intact.
  5. Stay off the grass. Avoid parking or idling on dry grass. Vehicle exhaust and dry vegetation is a dangerous combination.
  6. Stay on the road. Off-road driving is prohibited in most areas during fire season.
  7. Be prepared. Keep a cell phone, water, a shovel, and fire extinguisher with you in case a fire starts.

Of course, always follow recreational forest laws (www.oregon.gov/ODF/Fire/Pages/Restrictions.aspx). Report fires immediately to 911. Use TripCheck.com or call 511 to check your planned route. For more eclipse travel tips and links, visit www.oregon.gov/ODOT/Pages/Eclipse.aspx.

As a reminder, there are no recreational fires or campfires allowed in Central Oregon due to fire risk. Check your local regulation and Know Before You Go. plan to have a good time in Oregon during the August #OREclipse. Plan ahead so you can!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Preventing Human-Start Fires This Summer

Thanks to an excellent snow pack and regular spring rainstorms, the Central Oregon fire season didn’t start as early as it had in previous years and wasn’t underway until late June. However, a late start doesn’t mean we’re in the clear, yet. Another consideration is the thousands of out of area visitors that will descend upon Central Oregon for the eclipse. Locally, we need to do everything we can to prevent wildfires. 

The month of August is jokingly referred to as “Dirty August” by firefighters since that is when the bulk of fire activity occurs. Even though Mother Nature certainly plays her part with naturally occurring fires, the amount of human caused fires has dramatically increased from past years. Central Oregon did not use to have a high number of human caused fires and left that to lightning. Now approximately 60-70% of our wildland fires are caused by people. 

The Ana Fire near Summer Lake was likely caused by people using exploding targets and it grew to approximately 6,200 acres. There were 3 structures lost and hundreds threatened by that blaze. 

Our local fire agencies have declared that we are now in extreme fire conditions. Being prepared for fire season with defensible space around your home and creating a clear evacuation plan is vitally important for Central Oregon residents, but before there’s smoke on the horizon, we need to remain vigilant at preventing human-start fires.

Residents and visitors can prevent human-start fires by abiding by all regulated use closures during fire season on both public and private lands. These regulated use closures can include:

  • Fully extinguish campfires before leaving. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave. Check local restrictions before starting a campfire to be certain campfires are allowed.
  • Do not burn debris during fire season.
  • Shut down chainsaws and other power tools by 1 pm.
  • Avoid parking hot vehicles on dry grasses.
  • Check trailer chains to ensure they are not dragging on the road, which could cause sparks.
  • Do not use tracer ammunition or exploding targets.
  • Carry fire tools and a fire extinguisher when traveling in the forest.
Ultimately, fire preparedness and fire prevention are up to each resident and visitor of central Oregon. By doing our part to prevent wildfires on public and private lands, we ensure the safety and efficiency of our firefighters. 

Don't be the cause of the "next big one". 

Monday, June 26, 2017

So what's the deal with bark anyway?

With two local fires this season and dozens in previous years in bark mulch, considering how to limit the impact of bark mulch is a hot topic in the defensible space conversation. Bark mulch can be a receptive fuel bed for cigarettes and the embers produced by nearby wildfires. If the bark mulch is right next to home and/or touching your wood siding or structure, the risk of a fire spreading from the landscape to your home increases dramatically.

Finding an attractive landscape design without using bark mulch used to be difficult. Those landscaping ideas in Central Oregon were few and far between. Now with new science pointing to bark mulch next to structures as a significant fire risk, some property management companies are thinking outside the box to better protect their communities they manage.

Typically any small fire that begins in bark mulch can smolder and burn slowly for days without anyone noticing or be considering it as a threat. This was one property manager's first experience with a bark mulch fire.

"I was managing a small apartment complex in Eugene. We kept seeing small smokes pop up in the bark mulch surrounding the apartments. We'd spray it down with water and thought that would be the end of it," she explained. "When the smoke didn't stop reappearing, we called the fire department."

When the firefighters came out, they explained that a small ember or cigarette in bark dust can smolder underneath for days or weeks at a time, sometimes eluding detection. With one wind gust, it could be off to the races. When developing and building new apartments in the southwest part of Bend, it was time to think outside the box.

"We thought of including decorative rock in our landscaping for a variety of reasons", one property manager noted. "Reducing the risk of fires from cigarettes, even in a non-smoking community, and wildfires was an added benefit. Incorporating the rock into the landscape just seemed to reflect the community as a whole."

When talking about defensible space and fire preparedness, some folks think if they live in an apartment complex some actions may be out of their control, such as choosing their landscaping. With the property managers making one little change, rock instead of bark, for the entire complex, they have drastically improved everyone's chances of surviving a wildfire.

*Pro-tip: If you happen to live in a place that has used bark for landscaping, don't feel like you have to remove it all. You can simply put in a 2-3 feet ring of rock or bare dirt around your home, condo, or apartment complex to have the same effect as a flowerbed full of rock.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Central Oregon Residents Prepare for Fire Season During FireFree

This past week marked the first part of FireFree events in Bend, Sunriver, and the Box Canyon Transfer Site in Jefferson County for residents to dispose of yard waste for FREE in an effort to create and maintain defensible space around homes – in the "Home Ignition Zone".   

Bend area residents responded by bringing 17,473 cubic yards of flammable yard waste to Knott Landfill while residents on Bend's west side took advantage of the convenient West Side Collection Site and recycled 3,431 cubic yards of pine needles and other debris.  

Residents in Jefferson County also responded by bringing 4,073 cubic yards of yard debris to Box Canyon Transfer Station in Madras over the weekend.

The overall total collected for the first round of FireFree events was 25,477 cubic yards, which is a 10% increase from last year! 

"The Home Ignition Zone is the most vulnerable part of the residential property when a wildfire is nearby", states FireFree Program Coordinator Alison Green. "Individual homeowners are our greatest resource when it comes to protecting structures in the event of a wildfire". 
The FireFree message is a year-round effort to educate community members about how they can be prepared for wildfires.  Residents are encouraged to visit the www.FireFree.org for more information on reducing the structural ignitability of homes.  

There's still more opportunities left to dispose of yard waste and debris for FREE! 

FireFree allows residents of Central Oregon the opportunity to dump yard waste and debris at no charge at area landfills and transfer stations.

Negus Transfer Station 8AM-4PM
June 2-3, 2017
2400 NE Maple Way, Redmond

Northwest Transfer Station 8AM-4PM
June 2-3, 2017
68200 Fryrear Road, Cloverdale (Sisters)

La Pine
Southwest Transfer Station 8AM-4PM
June 2-3, 2017
54580 Highway 97, La Pine

Crescent & Chemult
Transfer Stations 8AM-4PM
June 2-3, 2017
Crescent Cutoff Road (Crescent) & Highway 97 South (Chemult)

Please remember to cover your loads! Drivers of uncovered loads and loads that lose debris along the roadways are subject to a large fine. 

For participating residents please note that manure, sod and construction debris are not permitted free of charge during these cleanup days.  They will be accepted although regular rates for these materials will apply.  

For more information about FireFree activities in your area, visit www.FireFree.org.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Help Is Out There

Is your house at risk from a wildfire?  If you live in Central Oregon it is very likely you will be affected by a wildfire.  That's because of we live in an ecosystem that has developed with fire as an integral component.  The old adage of not "if" but "when" definitely applies to fire in our environment.  Government agencies in Central Oregon are tasked with responding to fight wildfires, but they also have set a goal of reducing threat before the fire even starts.  It is a much more efficient use of resources to prevent catastrophic fires rather than fighting them.  As a result, many of the efforts in our area revolve around reducing the risk by replicating the effects of fire with low intensity controlled burns or modifications in the burnable fuels.      

These efforts are often large scale, but let's not forget that the individual land owner is a part of the strategy.  Realizing that fact often prompts homeowners to see what they can do to be a part of the effort.  Be aware that local government agencies are also very concerned about what happens on private land.  Efforts by homeowners affect the overall strategy to prevent a wildfire from growing to catastrophic levels.  When a wildfire actually starts the primary goal of firefighters is life safety and property protection.  The local agencies are anxious to help people take steps to protect their property and will assist you in any way they can.  It will help them meet that life safety goal for both you and firefighters.    
So how do you enlist the help of these agencies?  First, "get involved" government agencies have found that success in a community can only happen through active participation of community members.  Areas in Central Oregon are generally subject to Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs).  These are plans written by agencies and citizens that identify high risk areas so that overall goals can be set for government as well as private lands.  CWPPs are used to focus resources of the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management Oregon Department of Forestry and local fire departments to protect sensitive or high value areas identified in the plan.  The plans also give a strategic direction to the many agencies and citizens involved in planning for wildfire.   CWPPs are used to apply for grants, for fuel modifications on public land as well as for work on private lands.  These grants target the areas identified by the CWPP contributors as important.  That means you can make a difference simply by participating.  The CWPPs are renewed every five years and are always open for public comment.  You are encouraged to attend and give your opinions.  For more information contact Project Wildfire at www.projectwildfire.org  
You should also know what agencies are responsible for fire protection in your area.  If there are federal lands in the vicinity of your property find which agency is responsible for the protection of those lands.  Oregon Department of Forestry has responsibility for many private lands located in or near forested areas.   You should also be familiar with the local fire department charged with the responsibility of protecting your property.  Once you know those agencies, make contact with them.  They often have resources that can assist you in getting information on creating defensible space.  Those resources can be as simple as a supply of brochures for you and your neighbors or perhaps a personal visit by a fire representative.  In some cases, you can actually have an assessment done on your property with recommendations on steps you can take to create defensible space.  Local fire departments may also tour the inside as well as the outside of your house.  The inspectors have an eye to not just wildfire safety, but a holistic approach to reduction of all home hazards.  One fire district even provides small grants intended for landowners to initiate campaigns to reduce wildfire risk in their neighborhoods.
Partnerships made up of both private and public representatives are the true way to get meaningful things done.  This is especially true in Central Oregon where there is such a mixture of land ownership and the different responsibilities protecting them.  You need to know that local agencies not only want your participation, they NEED IT!  Only by coming together can we mitigate the natural effects fire and reducing catastrophic events to manageable ones.