Tollgate gets tough on wildfire
Last updated 5/16/2023 at 3:57pm
The Tollgate subdivision west of Sisters is nestled amid the towering ponderosa pines of the Deschutes National Forest. That's part of the charm of the 440-home development - but it also makes it vulnerable to wildfire.
Residents of Tollgate are taking the threat of wildfire head-on, using Firewise principles to protect themselves and their neighbors by hardening homes and reducing fuels around homes.
The Tollgate Firewise Committee, headed by Jane Killefer, held their second annual Firewise Kick-off Rally at the Tollgate Fire Hall on Saturday, May 6.
"The whole purpose is to raise awareness about wildfire mitigation," Killefer told The Nugget.
Tollgate has been evacuated in the past, in the face of advancing wildfire. So far, the community has escaped direct damage. The prospect of facing such threats is daunting. Killefer said Committee's efforts are all about "getting people to own their power - that they have a way to reduce their risk and that what they do on their own property helps every other property owner."
The Firewise Committee gathered subject matter experts for the rally, which drew over 100 people over the course of the day. Attendees learned how to get their property assessed for wildfire risk; how to access grant funding for mitigation work; what kinds of building materials are available that can prevent a house from catching fire; landscaping and sprinkler system options; how to be prepared for evacuation, and more. (Similar information will be provided at a forum on "Emergencies in Sisters" set for Thursday, May 11, at 6 p.m. at the Sisters Fire District Community Hall).
The Tollgate committee focuses heavily on assessment. Resident Christina Maier is the chair of the assessment committee. She noted that assessors undergo about six hours of training through the National Fire Protection Association.
The assessments evaluate how vulnerable a property is to the encroachment of wildfire - whether trees need to be limbed up or removed, firewood stacks moved away from buildings, areas around and under decks cleared and protected, and the like. Many of the homes in Tollgate are older, built with materials that are vulnerable to burning and require more maintenance. Alternatives, such as composite decking and cedar siding with a fireproof backing, can make a home much less vulnerable.
Some residents are capable of doing the work required to create defensible space and harden their properties themselves. Others are not - due to physical challenges, affordability, or simply time.
Grant funds are available through Deschutes County and matched by the Tollgate Property Owners Association to assist with the work.
"You have to get an assessment done so you can get your hat in the ring to get this grant funding," Killefer said.
The assessment committee is particularly focusing its attention to the edges of the subdivision that directly interface with the forest.
"We want to harden that perimeter," Killefer said.
Resident initiative is critical to protecting the community.
"We can't expect the fire service to bail us out," Maier said. "There's too many homes."
Detailed information on wildfire defense can be found at https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Fire-causes-and-risks/Wildfire/Firewise-USA.