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Scorched Earth: Oregon Enters Wildfire Awareness Month

Oregon is just one of nine states who have declared May to be 'Wildfire Awareness Month.' Officials are already getting the word out.

Posted: May. 1, 2018 11:50 AM
Updated: May. 1, 2018 11:54 AM

SALEM, Ore. — A lone home stands intact amidst a small island of trees and green grass, completely surrounded by fields of charred and blackened earth.

This home is the perfect example of residents that came prepared for wildfire, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), with dangerous 'fuels' having been cleared away around the house—although, from the looks of it, luck may have played a major role.

“Simple prevention strategies can make your home, family and community much safer. Spring is the perfect time to remove dead or flammable vegetation from around houses and other structures and to limb up trees around the yard. The goal is to reduce nearby fuels that pose a fire risk,” said ODF’s Fire Prevention Coordinator Tom Fields.

Wildfires at the border between urban areas and wildland are often started by human activity—burning debris or lawn mowing—which can spread into forests. Once underway, a fire follows fuel—whether it is trees, or houses.

“When it comes to preventing wildfires, there’s a lot at stake – lives, personal property, and the many resources provided by Oregon’s forests and rangelands,” said Kris Babbs, president of the Keep Oregon Green Association. “People caused more than 900 wildfires in Oregon last year. So people can make a big difference in reducing the number of wildfires.”

Wildfires burned more than 664,000 acres in Oregon last year—and 45 percent of those fires were caused by humans, according to ODF. Fires disrupted travel, degraded air quality, damaged homes, trails and spoiled other resources.

Governor Kate Brown, Babbs said, has partnered with Keep Oregon Green, the ODF, and the Office of State Fire Marshal to enlist public help and raise public awareness so that some of these devastating fires can be prevented in this and future fire seasons.

”It is vital that all Oregonians work with their neighbors to plan and prepare for fire season, especially in those areas currently experiencing drought as well as the more fire-prone landscapes of central and southwest Oregon. Educating yourself now about how fires can get started will be key in reducing wildfire starts,” said Babbs.

During the month of May, this partnership of Oregonian organizations will be sharing wildfire prevention topics to educate both homeowners and tourists on how to keep their outdoor activities from sparking the next wildfire.

According to the State Fire Marshall's office, this year's theme is 'Have you done enough to protect your home from wildfire?'

“The roof is the most critical part of the house when it comes to wildfire protection,” says State Fire Marshal Jim Walker. “Embers can collect and ignite on the roof, in gutters, and enter unscreened openings around the house. Although non-combustible roofing material is preferred, regardless of the construction, keep roofs, gutters and eaves clear of all leaves, pine needles and other flammable debris.”

To reduce risk of fire damage to homes, fire officials suggest removing dead vegetation for a minimum of 30 feet around your house. Most trees and healthy plants do not need to be removed—however, treees should be pruned and grass kept short (and as green as possible) to keep fire on the ground and more manageable by fire crews.

Local nurseries or an OSU Extension agent can let you know all about fire resistant plants.

It is a homeowners' responsibility, the Fire Marshal's office says, to protect their homes by building a 'defensible space.'

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