Wildfire Risks and Reducing Them:
An introduction with links to more information
Because of wildfire, every year lives are lost along with hundreds of millions of dollars of property. Waiting until the last minute to prepare wonít work. Do you want your house or RV to burn up? Right, so plan ahead!
Unless you live in denuded areas surrounded by wide paved roads, or it rains almost every day all summer, this applies to you. This even applies to the suburbs as they push further into the woods, as the landscaping grows denser in older suburbs, and as people stop watering to reduce water usage.
The Northwest (USA) Fire Prevention Education page www.or.blm.gov/nwfire/ is a good place to start to find out about reducing the risks of future fires, and related issues. Itís a good idea to check this site before trips to natural areas during fire season.
A great booklet titled "Living with Fire: A Guide for the Homeowner" is available on its publications page www.or.blm.gov/nwfire/docs/Livingwithfire.pdf This 12 page Adobe Acrobat file is a must-have for anybody living next to vegetation. All it takes is one large juniper to get your roof burning, so a review of vegetation and fire safety issues is critical.
The PDF file is 3.5 MB in size, so it might take a while to download. It is better to download it, using a right click on the mouse, than to try to view the file over the internet. Check to see if it was updated since you last read it. The last time I looked it was updated February 2001.
There are also many other links on this page, and in the booklet, that are related to wildfire information. Don't get burned out of your home or vehicle through ignorance, take advantage of this information built though other peoples hard experiences.
Here is a good article on how preparation helped avoid a dangerous wildfire situation. It was still a close call, and this article clearly communicates what the experience of a small fire was like
Too often people underestimate the danger of wildfire and the difficulty of fighting it. Unless you have experience with it, you need to read first hand accounts. Typically only war has a more devastating impact on people and their lives than wildfire does. Being near to a large house or slash pile fire helps physically communicate the difference between a cheery campfire and a raging wildfire. When the flames are higher than 30 feet, so that the heat hurts your eyes and you can feel the fire throb as the sound hits your body, then you can start to understand the power of wildfire.
Watching freshly cut green trees burn up in less than a minute on a slash pile in the rain is an awaking experience. Once a fire gets big, itís likely to burn until the winter snows fall or there is nothing but mineral soil left. Big hot fires burn the organic content out of the soil and start the process of baking it into a huge brick, which is why it is so hard to reforest after hot fires. Reducing the fuel load cools fires so they arenít nearly as destructive when the do happen.
I can't emphasize enough how important reaction time is. The article above emphasizes this. The neighbor failed to stop the fire, it spread to a field, and the wind started blowing the fire towards the authorís home.† The author succeeded in containing the main fire risk just as the fire got to the trees. Too often official fire fighters get there after it has become a major fire. Itís far better to put the fire out when itís just a scorched patch of grass.
Read about wildfire spread rates in the booklet ďLiving with FireĒ Ė itís incredible!
I always carry a backpack fire pump and jug of water in my truck now. Six gallons of water applied in a fine spray along with a shovel are plenty good enough to put out a small fire, but it has to be done quickly. In a hot dry wind, this window of opportunity might be less than a minute.
After rains start to fall again is the right time to reduce fire risk for next year by trimming lower branches off trees, cutting brush, and safely burning them.
Itís absolutely essential to create and maintain an effective defensible space around your buildings. The barrier doesnít have to stop the wildfire, just slow and cool it enough to make it feasible to fight it as it approaches your buildings. More information about this is in the booklet ďLiving with FireĒ mentioned above.
In 2002 a single fire in Oregon, the Biscuit Complex www.biscuitfire.com burned an area 2/3 the size of the state of Rhode Island or about 781 square miles. It started in July, took 7 weeks to contain, and it wasnít completely put out until the winter snows fell. This fire burned mostly trees. In recent years much smaller fires near the suburbs have burned hundreds of houses in a single fire.
I find it odd that many people put a lot of effort into preparing for the power being out for a few days, or worrying about a tree falling on the roof, and ignore the possibility that the whole place, every building, tree, animal, and person could be burned up by wildfire. Usually the people are warned in time and escape with their small pets and what they can throw in the car in a few minutes, but then they loose everything else Ė unless they made thorough preparations ahead of time.
The preparations to reduce the risk of wildfire damage are pretty simple Ė clean up long grass, brush, and lower branches, switch to less flammable plants and buildings, and keep water and fire fighting equipment handy.
My manual wildfire fighting equipment was bought through mail order from Terra Tech, described on the Sustainable Self-Reliance, Mobile Cabins, and Homesteading page on this site www.skilledwright.com/Homestead.htm#Reforestation
I spend a lot of time in dry places in the country and always carry a shovel, Pulaski fire axe, backpack fire pump, and fire protection shelter 12 months a year. This way they will always be there if I need them. As soon as temperatures stay above freezing, I carry a 6 gallon jug of water for the fire pump.
I carry a Fire Protection Shelter (small aluminized fabric tent) so if a fire ever overruns me, I have a fair chance of living through it.
There have been wildfires in ďthe rainy wet NorthwestĒ in December and February, so fire season could be almost any time during the year. Itís much easier to just always carry the tools and avoid trying to second guess just how dry it is for a particular location for that particular day.
You can drill down on the Northwest (USA) Fire Prevention Education page to get to the GEOMAC Wildland Fire Support site www.geomac.gov and get current fire line locations for USA that are based on satellite information and aerial photography. It starts out showing all of North America, and in 9 clicks to zoom in, the map scale is about 0.5 mile to the inch and shows relief, streams, and roads. This tool is very useful to monitor a wildfire to see if it has jumped major barriers like roads or rivers, and has become a distant, but more threatening fire. Itís only updated daily, so if the fire is moving fast and is close, donít bet your life on it.
The best general starting point (which covers all areas in the United States) for learning about and preparing for wildfire. All information is supplied and approved by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, a consortium of wildland fire agencies and protection associations.
GEOMAC Wildland Fire Support site www.geomac.gov
Best site for current fire information
National Interagency Fire Center www.nifc.gov
The central location for sharing information on current fires and education and prevention efforts.
Other Related Federal Agencies
U.S. Forest Service: www.fs.fed.us/land/#fire
Federal Emergency Management Agency www.fema.gov
Northwest Wildfire Prevention Education www.or.blm.gov/nwfire/
"Living with Fire: A Guide for the Homeowner"
www.or.blm.gov/nwfire/docs/Livingwithfire.pdf 3.5 MB in size, 12 pages long
A complete guide for decreasing wildfire risk for homeowners
FireFree (Oregon) www.firefree.org
Oregon Dept. of Forestry: www.odf.state.or.us
Oregon publications which will help you establish a more fire protective landscape for your homes:
http://extension.oregonstate.edu/deschutes/FireResPlants02.pdf† 0.2 MB in size, 4 pages long
www.firefree.org/ffreenew/PDF/FireResPlants.pdf 2.6 MB in size, 20 pages long
The Fire Safe Council (California) www.firesafecouncil.org
Colorado State Forestry Service: www.colostate.edu/Depts/CSFS/homefire.html
Stephen Fitzgerald, a forester with the Oregon State University Extension Service in central Oregon, who has been involved with forest fire issues for the past 12 years, wrote this book which is published by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute.
"Fire in Oregon's Forests: Risks, Effects, and Treatment Options"
This and related publications are a free and available from the publications page on this site www.oregonforests.org
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Last updated: August 7, 2003