Brad Withrow-Robinson, Forestry & Natural Resources Extension agent for Benton, Linn & Polk Counties.

The Labor Day fires clearly illustrated that we can and we do have wildfires in western Oregon.  Few have the ferocity of last year’s fires, but they are not unprecedented.  There is abundant evidence of massive fires in both the ecological and historical records. Fire has been, is, and will continue to be part of life here in western Oregon.

The Labor Day fires should have made millions of people around the Willamette Valley aware of that.  We also learned that fire is not limited to rural areas.  Firestorms can invade small towns and also urban areas. The cities of Molalla, Oregon City, Springfield, Pacific City and Medford were all under some level of evacuation advisory in September.  Smoke can lay siege to any community.

We see now that fire preparedness is everyone’s responsibility.

Have the Labor Day fires changed your thinking?  Have you taken steps since the fires to make yourself and your family better prepared?  I hope so.  We all need to take steps individually and with neighbors to help prepare ourselves, and our communities, for fires and smoke.  Being ready for every “next” fire season needs to become a sustained part of our western Oregon lifestyle.

Let us help.  OSU Extension along with many state and local agencies and community partners will be launching a Fire Preparedness campaign in spring 2021. Please watch for more information and plan to participate and learn how to protect yourself and your family from future fire emergencies.  In the meantime, take the self-quiz below.

Your Fire Preparedness Quiz:

  • Do you have an emergency “Go Bag”?
  • Do other family members know where it is?
  • Have you and your family discussed evacuation plans? 
  • Do you know the 3 emergency Evacuation Levels, understand their meaning and actions implied?
  • Are you prepared to protect yourselves from wildfire smoke?

Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension, Benton, Linn & Polk Counties.

The Labor Day fires’ impacts will be felt throughout region, well beyond the footprint of the fires.  It will likely be harder for family forest landowners to find contractors, seedlings and other resources to get projects done on their property for a while, wherever they are.   Why? The fires are already putting demands on local resources and infrastructure. This includes loggers and logging equipment, mill capacity, and the ODF Stewardship Foresters who are overseeing many post fire responses.  We can also expect to see other resources tested for the next several years, including seedling availability and nursery capacity to produce them. Shortages of many of these shared resources will be felt across much of state as assets are reassigned or moved around. Recovery will take time. 

Fire Preparedness

Three Zones of Defensible Space. Image from: https://bewildfireready.org/fuels-reduction-cost-share-program/

Not surprisingly, we are also getting calls about preventing and preparing for wildfire.  The new Fire Program will coordinate our work to expand public fire preparedness and smoke readines. These will be the emphasis of our program next spring.  We will work with key partners including Oregon Department of Forestry, County governments, local Fire Districts, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil & Water Conservation Districts and Watershed Councils among others. There is need toprepare at the home, community and landscape level.

In the meantime, begin your journey at the Fire Program website (https://extension.oregonstate.edu/fire-program).  Under the Fire Adapted Communities banner, follow the links to “Before a Wildfire”, and “During a Wildfire” to start learning how to prepare.  Also, look at the section on Landscape-scale Land Management, which is how we start needing to look at and address fire preparedness.