News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Citizens learn to adapt to wildfire

When it comes to being wildfire ready, one of the biggest questions from the Sisters community is: How do we “harden” a home, and what does it mean to be wildfire ready?

On Monday, October 17, Citizens4Community (C4C) hosted their Let’s Talk community event at Paulina Springs Books — a panel discussion about how to make Sisters a fire-adapted, and wildfire-ready community.

Panelists for the talk included Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District (SCSFD) Fire Chief Roger Johnson, Andrew Myhra, U.S. Forest Service assistant fire management officer, and Doug Green, program manager of the Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) program at Headwaters Economics. Moderated by Kirstin Anglea, and facilitated by Josie Newport, community members were able to pose their questions to experts.

“It is important to recognize there is not one single magic bullet to being wildfire ready. There is the National Cohesive Strategy that has three legs of a stool, which includes protective landscapes, emergency response within the community, and having a fire-adapted community,” said Johnson.

Sisters’ local fire department works with partners to help create an emergency plan, as well as public preparedness which includes hardening your own home. Many participants at the talk wanted to know what it means to have a hardened home, and where to start.

“It is important to understand the problem of fire burning in communities doesn’t come from a flame front coming into town; they usually originate within the community, and it becomes a home ignition problem,” said Doug Green.

Clearing debris and items away from your own home can help prevent an ember fire from sparking and spreading to neighboring homes.

“What you do has an effect on neighbors and the action happens within our own community,” said Green.

The SCSFD partners with the USFS on fuel reduction treatments, and looking at fire behavior around properties and homes as far as saving structures and hardening homes. Myhra works throughout the year on fuel reduction treatments in Sisters Country forests.

“We work to provide a safe environment for firefighters to go in and fight a fire,” said Myhra.

Educating the public on how to act on their own home hardening was an ongoing theme throughout the talk. Green echoed throughout the talk that “a fire is not going to start on South Sister and move into town; it will most likely start from ember spark house-to-house, and create a situation where departments can’t put out structure fires,” he said.

Home hardening includes: clearing gutters of pine needles, clearing the surrounding five feet of your home of brush, pine needles, and any sort of low-to-the-ground fuels that put out a lot of heat. Keep your woodpile away from the surface of the home, cover boats and RVs, and keep them farther than five feet from your house.

“When embers spark in gutters and corners where they can collect by a home, the fire bounces from home to home and it becomes overwhelming for a department to respond to. When a home has that first five feet cleared, it creates a home that is easier to save from fire,” said Johnson.

With the USFS working on fuel reduction in the surrounding Sisters Country forests, and the community working to harden its homes and protect itself, the community is working toward being a fire-adapted community.

“Working in an extensive area of forest of mixed conifer, we treat as many areas as we can around communities,” said Myhra.

For example, the Milli Fire in Sisters in 2017 entered flatter, treated areas where it subsequentially landed on its face and allowed firefighters to attack it.

“We really want to educate the public to explain control burns and fuel reductions and what they can do for us,” said Myhra.

One of the toughest aspects of tackling home hardening in communities is whether to make details of it voluntary or regulatory. Most residents don’t want more mandates and rules for their property, but, if it is voluntary, not everyone might do the work.

“If we can educate people and people start seeing their neighbors taking action on their homes, hopefully it can become something that everyone is able to do, and at least clearing those five feet around their house, we can work toward more defensible space in the community,” said Green.

Green and a team at SCSFD will go out to your home for free and a defensible space assessment and tips on where to start hardening your home.

“That’s a great place to start,” said Green. Call the local fire department and request a home tour at 541-549-0771.

Chief Johnson suggested another conversation topic of looking at affordable housing in Sisters Country, and how we balance densification and growth with protecting our homes. More homes mean they are closer together, and a greater risk if fire were to enter the community.

To learn more about C4C Let’s Talk events and to suggest a topic for an event visit, or email Josie Newport at [email protected]


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