Late Sunday evening, a large storm cell moved across central Oregon, laying down over 3,300 lightning strikes. More than a dozen fires were reported overnight and several more “sleeper fires” were discovered the next morning.
One of the lightning strikes spiraled through a Ponderosa pine tree and transferred its electrical shock to a juniper tree less than 10 feet away, igniting the tree and nearby grasses on the Cyrus family property, just north of the Aspen Lakes development, five miles east of Sisters.
Matt Cyrus, the property owner and a firefighter with the Cloverdale Fire Department, was the first on scene and found a small brush fire burning in the bunch grass under the trees.
“The flames were only about six inches tall when I arrived, and my first thought was, ‘The fire is doing just what we expected,’” said Cyrus, referring to the area he previously treated specifically to reduce the rate of fire spread and increase the chance of suppression when a fire occurred.
“We have been worried about that slope since we bought the property,” explained Cyrus. “Given the right dry, hot, windy conditions, we knew we could lose the trees on the property and potentially the subdivision at the top of the hill.”
Cyrus knew it wasn’t IF, but WHEN a fire would occur on the property. As a lifelong resident of the area, he is familiar with fire season here.
As a firefighter, Cyrus also is familiar with fire behavior and how flames can spread quickly across a landscape. This, he explained, is why he took a proactive approach to the threat of wildfire on his property.
In a partnership with the Oregon Department of Forestry and Deschutes County, including funding from FEMA’s Pre Disaster Mitigation grant program, Cyrus was able to treat over 500 acres of land that provided a significant buffer of protection to his land and nearby subdivisions at high risk of wildfire.
Cyrus and his family took their understanding of fire behavior a step further when they developed the Aspen Lakes Community in 1996.
“We constructed Aspen Lakes with Firewise principles in mind from the start,” recalled Cyrus.
Defensible space and a landscaping approach that is mindful of fire behavior were key attributes in the development of Aspen Lakes. In 2009, Aspen Lakes was recognized as a Firewise Community by the Firewise Communities USA program.
Sunday night’s fire proved the effectiveness of fuels treatment on the landscape, said Kate Lighthall, Project Wildfire program director. The 2,400-square-foot fire stayed low, never reaching more than 18 inches in height, even with the wind on it.
“It only took 30 seconds to put out,” said Deputy Fire Chief John Thomas of the Cloverdale Fire Department.
“The fire behaved exactly as we expected in an area that had been prepared for fire,” Thomas added.
“If Matt Cyrus hadn’t thinned some of the juniper and reduced the sage and bitterbrush under the trees, that fire would have moved from the ground to the trees quickly, and up the hill into Panoramic Estates where we would have had a disaster on our hands,” said Thomas, referring to the 113-home subdivision less than an eighth of a mile away.
Lighthall said the small and relatively uneventful fire provides testimony to the effectiveness of fuels reduction in keeping fires manageable and preserving the natural beauty of the landscape.
For more information about the effectiveness of fuels reduction and how property owners can take a proactive approach in protecting their property and communities, contact Project Wildfire at 541-322-7129. For information about becoming a Firewise Community, visit www.firewise.org.