News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

The wildfire threat in our yards

(Editor’s note: This story was edited to remove a reference that misattributed the cause of the Pole Creek Fire. That fire was determined to have been caused by lightning).

Talk to anyone in the local wildfire mitigation arena and one of the first things they mention is the extra-tall grass and weeds everywhere because of a wetter-than-usual late spring.

With the onset of high summer temperatures and no precipitation, those dry grasses and weeds provide rapidly burning ground fuel for wildfire, especially if wind is a factor. Fire officials remind us to never park a car or equipment that is still hot from running in tall, dry grass.

Officials are urging everyone with tall, dry grass on their property to pull it or cut it. Ben Duda of the local office of Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) recommends, now that the heat is here, any power mowing should be done before 10 a.m. or after 8 p.m., when there is more humidity and less chance for a spark to catch the grasses on fire.

Dave Elpi of Sisters Forest Products LLC has been working in the area since 1973. He contacted The Nugget last week to voice concern over the preponderance of tall, dry grass that he is seeing everywhere. He knows how it can fuel a fire once it gets started and urges everyone to remove grass hazards on their property.

City Code Compliance Officer Jacob Smith is contacting property owners in the city who need to abate situations involving dry grass and weeds. Pinecones and pine needles should also be cleaned up off the ground and off the roof to avoid being ignited by blowing embers.

Sisters had its first fire in the woods last Friday on land off Three Creek Road on FS Road 1620. Fortunately, that area had been previously treated by the Forest Service, so the fuel had been reduced. With a quick multi-agency response, the fire was put out in short order. Officials didn’t immediately have a cause, but it is likely to have been human caused. That fire was close to town, and serves as a reminder that wildfire is a present danger in Sisters Country.

Senate Bill 762 (SB762) created a statewide approach to a wide range of wildfire mitigation measures. One element of the bill included the creation of a statewide wildfire risk map that can be used by multiple agencies to assist in their efforts.

Being surrounded on three sides by national forest lands means all of Sisters is considered within the wildland-urban interface (WUI). ODF, with Oregon State University, has developed a comprehensive statewide map that displays the five wildfire risk classifications: extreme, high, moderate, low, and no risk.

Property owners can find their risk classification on the Oregon Wildfire Risk Explorer. You can enter your address to view the risk classification on your property and download a homeowner’s report. A paper copy can be requested by emailing ODF at [email protected] Most the city of Sisters is rated at moderate risk within the WUI, with some classified as high risk. The land surrounding Sisters is mostly high risk.

Letters went out last week to all property owners who are rated high or extreme risk and lie within the WUI. The notice informs them if they may be subject to future defensible space or building code requirements and how to find information on those requirements. It also provides information on the process to appeal a property’s risk classification.

ODF is holding a series of community information sessions starting this week in southwest Oregon. The Bend session is scheduled for Wednesday, August 10, 7 to 8 p.m. The location hadn’t been announced when The Nugget went to press.

Each session will include a presentation about the map’s function and purpose, how wildfire risk is assessed, and how property owners may appeal their assigned risk class. Time will be available to address questions from community members. The ODF YouTube channel will have a video of the information available for those who cannot attend the public meeting.


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