Bend fire ecologist warns of major wildfire threat

Author George Wuerthner says first line of defense starts with homeowners

Bend fire ecologist predicts destructive wildfire

BEND, Ore. - The Two Bulls Fire: a moment Bend held its breath, firefighters went to work, and homeowners crossed  their fingers.

A month later, there's nothing more than blackened trees and brush, but one Bend fire ecologist said the region just got lucky.

"I caution people to not get a false sense of security from all that," Bend author and fire ecologist George Wuerthner said Tuesday.

Wuerthner said he has has studied forest fires for decades, written two books on the subject and takes vacations to visit burn scars.

And he said Bend holds all the right (or, you might say, wrong) ingredients for a massive and devastating wildfire.

"It might be 100 years before Bend gets threatened by a fire -- or it could be this summer," Wuerthner said.

Combine a town near a forest, hot weather, low humidity and the one key ingredient Wuerthner said is guaranteed to bring destruction: wind.

"It's not like a forest fire burns right up to a house," he said. "It's usually the burning embers thrown by the wind that burns homes."

Wuerthner said prescribed burn zones will not hold in extreme fire conditions, and the first line of defense doesn't start with a line in the ground, but with residents themselves.

"You'll see cedar shake roofs with pine needles on them, and that's a disaster waiting to happen," Wuerthner said. "Metal roofs will make your home have like a 95 percent chance of surviving a fire nearby."

Wuerthner said he'd like to see building codes putting fire safety first, and prescribed burns on the edges of neighborhoods instead of the middle of nowhere.

"If we're spending millions and millions putting out fires, maybe we could spend the same amount of money making sure the community won't burn down by fixing homes," Wuerthner said.

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