Over the last few weeks, we in Central Oregon have watched in sadness as the media portrays the shocking devastation left in the wake of record-breaking fires across Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and other states across the west.
Thousands of homes have been lost, thousands more have been evacuated. There is no shortage of footage of people exclaiming through tears that they had to evacuate immediately, with no time to prepare.
These sad accounts provide eye-opening, teachable moments for us here in central Oregon. Temperatures are finally rising, bringing us warmer days for summertime activities.
“These warmer days will also dry out our landscape quickly, leaving grasses, shrubs and trees extremely vulnerable to sparks and fire,” says Katie Lighthall, Director of Project Wildfire.
A lightning or human-caused fire can spread rapidly to homes and neighborhoods, quickly turning our community into another sad news story. “The key to your home surviving a wildfire and your family’s successful evacuation is being PREPARED,” adds Lighthall.
It is important to note that preparing for an emergency occurs in advance of the emergency itself.
The greatest risk of homes catching fire during a wildland fire event is from the embers that reach your property long before an actual flame front. The Waldo Fire in Colorado Springs is demonstrating this phenomenon well.
“High winds whipped embers beyond the flame front to land in gutters, on decks, in vents, and in flammable vegetation, soon igniting and burning down the homes,” says Lighthall. “There simply are not enough fire personnel or resources to post a truck at each home, so it’s up to individual homeowners to take responsibility for the defensible space around their homes,” she adds.
Prepare your home against the threat of wildfire by creating and maintaining defensible space in the 30-100 feet around your home in the “Home Ignition Zone”.
• Clean gutters and roof valleys from debris like pine needles and leaves.
• Reduce shrubs and weeds that provide a path for fire to reach your trees or home.
• Remove combustibles (weeds, needles, toys, furniture) on your deck or patio, or near your fence.
• Move wood piles at least 20 feet away from your home or other combustibles.
Prepare your family for evacuation by keeping a 72-hour kit in your car throughout fire season. Include a supply of water, clothing, food, necessary medications, important papers and other necessary items to last you and your family three days if you are evacuated from your home (www.ready.gov ).
Register cell phones with Deschutes County’s Citizen Alert program to alert you of any evacuations to your neighborhood even if you’re not at home. (http://www.deschutes.org/9-1-1-Service-District/Citizen-Emergency-Notification-System-%28CENS%29.aspx )
“There are many similarities between central Oregon and the areas involved in major fires in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico including an abundance of dry vegetation and strong winds that can quickly turn into a similar disaster here,” reminds Lighthall. “With an easy amount of preparation, our community members can avoid the devastation of a wildfire and evacuations here,” she adds.
For additional tips, residents can visit www.firefree.org or www.firewise.org. For more information please contact the Project Wildfire office at 541-322-7129.