City Council hears about wildfire


Last updated 5/16/2023 at 3:41pm

Fire experts presented to the City Council during a workshop in recognition of May as Wildfire Awareness Month.

Roger Johnson, fire chief at Sisters Camp-Sherman Fire District (SCSFD), Ian Reid, Sisters district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, and Heather Miller, rire risk reduction specialist for the Oregon office of State Fire Marshal offered a wildfire preparedness presentation to councilors, covering matters from building hardening to regional wildfire risk, cohesive strategies to coordinated response information.

One of the council’s goals this year is to focus on wildfire mitigation and community resiliency, and to continue partnerships with agencies throughout the region.

Specific to community development, the City set a goal of working toward updating defensible space and structural hardening requirements through the Development Code. Those changes continue to be in draft form as Senate Bill 762 is being discussed, but planners are looking at drafting amendments to the code surrounding building hardening.

Public works crews are treating areas around wells and public works facilities to mitigate risk.

Reid presented the regional wildfire risk to councilors, providing context as to why some of the elements of mitigation are so important. He discussed the last 30 years of fire history in the state, and how each decade fire intensity, size, and frequency has increased.

The cohesive strategy they are all working with is a “three-legged stool” that consists of fire adapted communities, resilient landscapes, and a safe, effective wildfire response. All three of these elements play together in creating a strategy to mitigate fires. Partnering with different agencies allows for these to work well together.

“All of those processes are working together with agencies, individuals, and community leaders,” said Reid.

Having a resilient landscape includes fuel treatments, mowing, thinning, and prescribed burning. Fire managers utilize pile burning and underburning to treat the fuels and undergrowth in the forests around city limits.

“We’ve completed a third of the prescribed fire work for this year,” Reid said.

Heather Miller broke down the elements of what it takes for a community to be fire adapted. Structure hardening is critical to resisting ember showers that will head toward a community ahead of a fire, getting into structures and potentially burning them down.

“When we are talking about structural hardening, we are really talking about how we can protect from those embers,” she said.

Structure hardening involves use of fire-resistant materials for decking and siding, blocking off areas where embers can get under decks or into roofing materials, and creating defensible space around buildings to reduce fire intensity as it approaches a structure.

Chief Johnson spoke about the coordinated response aspect of the cohesive strategy. He emphasized the many partnerships Sisters Country has within surrounding areas, including with neighboring fire departments, Oregon Department of Forestry, the Forest Service, and other entities.

“There are that many resources in a small area… there are three separate agencies and more throughout the area and I think the neat thing about it is we all work so closely together,” said Johnson.

He spoke about the interagency coordination happening with regard to structural protection and standardizing equipment agency-wide.

“There is a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work to make sure that all three agencies work as one entity when there is a fire,” he said.

He presented on the Oregon Fire Mutual Aid System and the one-time funding Senate Bill 762 provided for resources across the state.

Johnson broke down the response system, starting at the local level, and then through the state and national levels, based on the severity of a fire and whether local resources can handle a fire in the area.

“The three counties in the area work collectively to protect and work together as much as we can,” he said.

Johnson presented an example of the 2020 fires we saw in the Willamette Valley, and how the response system worked from the local to state level as an example of how the interagency and state system functions.

See related story on emergency preparedness, page 1.


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