(Update: Adding comments from Project Wildfire, county forester, homeowner)
Monday marked one of the largest recent efforts to protect against wildfires in Central Oregon.
While all of the High Desert is vulnerable to some degree, heavily wooded southern Deschutes County is particularly susceptible to wildfires.
The county forester and Project Wildfire identified five neighborhoods in the Greater La Pine area that need to create defensible spaces to improve forest health and curb the risk of destructive blazes.
"If a fire gets started in here, and starts a crown, it's not going to stop," said Art Anderson, a community liaison for one of the neighborhoods. "So we're trying to make fuel breaks and thin out the trees to where it's easier to control."
For the last couple of months, homeowners have been clearing brush on their property and putting it into piles. Anderson estimates local homeowners have dedicated more than 800 man-hours to the project.
Now, contracted workers with the U.S. Forest Service are going through the neighborhoods and chipping the debris. Officials estimated there are about 200 piles of woody debris in one neighborhood alone.
Fires usually start low to the ground, then work their way up from grass to bushes and trees, essentially climbing a ladder. The chipping process reduces these ladder fuels, creating a defensible space.
"Defensible space is really the key, should a fire occur, that the home survives," said Ed Keith, the Deschutes County forester. "In the past, we've actually done projects where fires have happened, and that defensible space has enabled firefighters to be able to defend that home much more effectively."
Jodie Barram, program director for Project Wildfire, said creating a defensible space of at least 30 feet around your home makes it 80 percent more likely to survive a wildfire. Without it, she said you put yourself and your home in danger.
"You're just at a higher risk for losing your home and losing the structure," Barram said. "As we've seen in some of the more severe wildfires recently, I think that's influencing people's decisions to take care of their properties."
This project is funded by the U.S. Forest Service. Keith estimates it will cost between $20,000 and $25,000. He expects it to be completed by early next week.