Are you ready for the wildfire season? Some great new sources of information, including a webinar seriesand resource packet, are available online to share with family, friends and neighbors as we work to be more aware and more prepared for fire.
Last summer’s 2020 wildfire events affected most Oregonians and we learned that EVERYONE living in Oregon should be prepared for a wildfire emergency. And here we are in July, with 2021 becoming another historic fire year. So it is important to keep focused even though every community is different, and it can be difficult to navigate all of the resources.
Oregon State University’s Forestry & Natural Resources Extension along with state and local agencies and community partners, is helping Oregonians prepare for the reality of wildfire through greater awareness and action. OSU Extension’s new Fire Program hit the ground running, providing post fire programming last fall, and also a series of fire preparedness webinars this spring.
The Fire Aware. Fire Prepared webinar series aired in spring 2021. Topics included:
Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension agent for Benton, Linn and Polk Counties. First appeared in Linn & Benton Extension July/August GROWING newspaper.
Wildfire is an accelerating problem across Oregon, with many potential impacts. One impact – smoke – can have many detrimental effects on communities including our physical and mental health, damaging our forest and agricultural industries, and slowing local economies.
Harmful smoke from wildfire happens somewhere in Oregon every year, and in years like last year, spares no part of the state.
Brad Withrow-Robinson, Forestry & Natural Resources Extension agent for Benton, Linn and Polk Counties.
It is shaping up to be another dry year. Writing this in mid-month, we have seen unusually dry air and winds, creating fire conditions not usually seen until early summer. We will likely see temperatures in the 80s and are under red-flag warnings last weekend. In mid-April! We could luck out, and get some serious precipitation in the next few weeks, but don’t count on it.
We know “you can’t change the weather”. But there are a few things under our control. Here are some things to do in the face of a dry year.
ODF reports an unusually high number of fire starts this month. The main cause has been back yard debris burns.
A thing to do: Do not set any debris fires this season (unless we get a significant weather change). Instead, plan to cover piles and wait burn this fall after the rains start.
Another thing to do: Tell your neighbors about your choice to not burn now, and encourage them to do the same. After all, an escaped burn next door is a very threatening fire.
Yet another thing to do: Start taking fire season precautions now when working in the woods. Carry your fire tools while working in the woods, doing storm clean up. “Better late than never” not a good strategy here.
The Labor Day fires created an awareness among residents of western Oregon about the potential of major fires. The Extension Fire Program has created Fire Aware. Fire Prepared., a 7-part series to help individuals and communities begin the work of being better prepared for wildfire.
Another Thing to do: Take the preparedness actions presented in a to do list at the end of each session. These include actions to harden your home against fire, as well as beginning to coordinate with neighbors.
Yet another thing to do: That thing about coordinating with neighbors. Encourage your neighbors to watch the Fire Aware. Fire Prepared. webinar series and begin a neighborhood planning process.
This is likely to be rough year for new plantings. Effective weed control will likely be more important than ever. There may still time to touch up your weed control around your seedlings. Some weed control resources are here.
A thing to do: Check the weed situation in young plantings if you have them. Treat if needed. Be careful if using herbicides, as seedlings become more sensitive to spray when they come out of dormancy, as described in this post.
As you do your winter storm clean up and piling remember that this is an excellent time to make firewood. Firewood is best dried quickly, so early summer is great. Unlike those precious boards you mill up for a “future project” which should be gently dried, firewood benefits from harsh drying conditions.
A thing to do: Cut wood early in the season and stack it loosely to catch the dry summer breeze. This timely effort will help it dry quickly and burn cleaner in the winter.
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.
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.