April 10, 2001
Serving Western Deschutes County
Sisters, Oregon

© 2001
The Nugget Newspaper
Sisters, Oregon
All rights reserved

Comments to
Eric Dolson, Publisher

Fire officials face dangerous season
By Craig F. Eisenbeis

State forester Wayne Rowe is spearheading a fire prevention drive in the Sisters area.
A half dozen local fire officials met at the Sisters fire hall last week to discuss what promises to be a challenging fire season.

Already, they said, a few small fires have broken out -- and they know that more are on the way.

Planning is a key factor at this point in the fire season, but so is prevention.

FireFree is a program new to the Sisters area and is one of the tools being promoted by officials this year

Contingency plans, state-of-the-art equipment, overlapping jurisdictions and inter-agency cooperation are important parts of the fire fighting picture, but FireFree stresses what homeowners themselves can do to minimize the loss of their own home.

"We've been trying to get people involved ever since Tollgate burned in 1979," said Wayne Rowe, who heads the region's Oregon Department of Forestry office and coordinates the local FireFree program.

His brother, Don Rowe, Chief of the Sisters/Camp Sherman Rural Fire Protection District, hosted the meeting.

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The problem, Wayne Rowe explained, is the growing interface of wildlands with residential districts.

In the Tollgate example, a wildfire reached structures in the housing area primarily because plentiful fuels allowed the fire to spread along the ground.

The object of FireFree is to educate homeowners about the risks of fuel loading and provide logistical support for the removal of combustible fuels near homes.

The number one factor in minimizing fire risk, officials say, is to create a "defensible space" around homes.

In most cases, a 30-foot, combustion-resistant buffer zone is sufficient. The zone is best created by removal of fallen needles and cones and other combustible vegetation. Close-cropped grass and removal of low-hanging tree branches also helps to reduce fire danger.

FireFree organizers are sponsoring official "Get in the Zone" weekends on April 28-29 and May 5-6.

Residents are encouraged to clean up yards and create defensible spaces on these weekends. Yard debris from this effort can be taken to local landfills free of charge.

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Knott Landfill in Bend will receive yard debris on the two official weekends, and Fryrear landfill, near Sisters, will receive debris at no charge on May 12-13.

In order to be received without charge, the material must be combustible yard debris. It cannot be mixed with garbage or other solid waste material, or a charge may be incurred. The landfills will be open for regular business, as well.

The materials will be chipped and sold for fuel.

Wayne Rowe said that the 1998 effort in Bend produced 8,600 cubic yards of material and 9,600 and 10,300 cubic yards the following two years.

"To give you an idea of just how much that is," he said, "last year, it made a pile 20 feet high, 30 feet wide and a quarter mile long."

The program was such a success in Bend that it was expanded to the Sisters area this year.

FireFree is the creation of SAFECO insurance, in concert with local fire protection agencies.

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Rich Engstrom, of Cascade Insurance Center, is the local representative for the program and attended the meeting.

"It just makes good sense," Engstrom said. "Minimizing losses minimizes insurance costs and premium costs."

Stacy Long is the area's FireFree representative for the U.S. Forest Service and attended last week's meeting. She was one of those who went door-to-door last month to help spread the word.

She said that some of the people she contacted were already aware of the program due to coverage in The Nugget.

Chuck Cable, Chief of the Cloverdale Rural Fire Protection District, has also been busy spreading the word with meetings and a door-to-door campaign in his district.

He also emphasized the importance of maintaining access and clear labeling of address numbers.

"We can't help them, if we can't find them," Cable said.

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He added that the same applies for ambulance calls and other emergencies.

Black Butte Ranch is also a FireFree sponsor, and has made provisions for local disposal of combustible materials.

Ed Sherrill, Ranch Fire Chief, said that the first two loads of "natural burnable debris" can be brought to the ranch's gravel pit for free disposal April 21-29, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Sherrill will also be hosting a fire station open house on May 10, from 3 to 5 p.m.

He will discuss the FireFree program and give ranch residents a chance to see the ranch's new fire equipment.

FireFree will also help make arrangements for those who are not physically or financially able to accomplish their own debris clean up.

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Boy Scouts and other volunteer groups are lined up to help out. Interested parties should contact their local fire agency for assistance.

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