As we have finished up a three part Firewise Workshop, there were many success stories and processes we learned about that our communities use to conduct outreach, educate and improve their defensible space. While the workshops served as a great place to share these experiences, not all of these stories were able to be shared due to time constraints and the limits of a virtual workshop. I have recently been in communication with Alexis Scharff from Broken Top Homeowners Association discussing one of these stories. Below is what she had to share and a great example of one of the success stories of the good work our communities are doing that we were not able to share during our Firewise workshop.

Background of Broken Top as Firewise Recognized

The Broken Top community is located on the West side of Bend where the wildland and development intersect. The community is approximately 284 acres. Of the total acres, approximately 84 acres are made up of roads and common areas with the remaining 200 acres being individual lots. In 1990, the Awbrey Hall Fire burned 3,032 acres and destroyed 22 homes. Broken Top sits on the East Edge of the Awbrey Hall fire overlooking the effects the fire had on the landscape.  Currently Broken Top is surrounded by the fuels that the Awbrey Hall fire consumed in its 3,032 acre burn.  Fuel composition within the fire scar has changed the vegetation from Pine overstory with bitter brush understory to areas of continuous bitter, rabbit and sage brush all ranging near 4 feet. 

In December of 2015 community members of Broken Top met with Project Wildfire, Oregon Department of Forestry and Deschutes County to conduct a community Assessment.  From that assessment, the issues identified at that time called out the need to address fuels in immediate area around the homes (zone 1, 0-5′), the fuel continuity (ladder fuels) and continued outreach regarding Firewise practices to the residents. 

From that assessment, an action plan was developed to directly address the above issues.  Over time Broken Top has held several education events, clean-up days and has eventually worked toward a yearly process of reaching out to the community to assess properties in the neighborhood and at the same time educate, gain buy-in, and achieve fuels reduction around homes. 

Getting Down to the Process

Alexis has broken this yearly process into steps that starts with a timeline that takes fire season in consideration.  The blocks below are Broken Tops process as described by Alexis. 

At the beginning of the season we send out emails containing the (assessment) form(s) to all the homes in the community to remind them of what they need to take care of. The second page (or back page) contains some explanation to go along with the evaluation.

Our office manager has a system of printing these forms out for us with addresses and she later distributes the completed forms to the homeowners.  

A few weeks ahead, before we are ready to start, we send out notices to the homes we will evaluate that year which gives them a few weeks to get much of the work done before we get there. 

We have around 645 homes so we break them up into groups and it takes us several years to do the entire community. The more years we do this process, the faster it all goes. It took much more time the first year until we knew what we were doing. Using these forms has helped speed things up. The time it takes also depends on how many volunteers you have to help. Some go out in teams of two (some find it more fun), some prefer to go alone. We wear bright vests so we look “official.” We ring each home’s doorbell when we get there to let the homeowner know that we will be walking around their home and ask if they want to walk with us. Not too many owners take us up on this but some owners are thrilled to walk around and ask us questions.

We have decided not to fine anyone for not complying but just use continued information to help “guilt” them into complying along with a little friendly peer pressure.

We have a different team do the vacant lots as there is more follow up done by our office. There is some wording in our community documentation that allows us to get the lots cleaned up and bill the owners for the cost if the owners do not have the work done themselves in a timely manner. This has been very helpful. I recommend using an attorney for the wording that would work best for each community.”

-Alexis Sharff, Broken Top HOA

While not all communities have enforcement measures or the personnel to do the ground work required to assess all lots in a community or even have an HOA, this process does offer basic steps and principles along with assessment form examples that can be adapted and applied to just about any community. 

Resources Mentioned

Broken Top Assessment Form with Structure

Broken Top Assessment Form Vacant Lot