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 landowner 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 the 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 and 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 to public comment.  You are encouraged to attend and give your opinions.  

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 of fire and reducing catastrophic events to manageable ones.