BEND, OR -- Dozens of Oregon homes have already been destroyed this wildfire season. But the State Fire Marshal’s Office says defensible space could prevent more from being lost. OSFM is now traveling the state to help educate Oregonians about steps they can take now to protect their property.
Assistant Chief Deputy Chad Hawkins was in Bend this week, and says it's critical to reduce the chances an ember will spark a fire in your yard. "A majority, if not three-quarters of structures lost during a wildfire, is due to what we call ember cast or ember showers. So, it’s those embers that are carried in the wind, whether created by the fire or the prevailing weather patterns or weather conditions in the area at the time of the fire, carrying those embers half a mile, three-quarters of a mile, a mile and a half in some studies." He tells KBND News there are simple and inexpensive things property owners can do now, "Raking leaves, cleaning gutters. We always think of them as small minutia tasks. But those are the ones that if we let slip just for that one-two minutes, and inevitably deal with that oncoming fire front from that escaped fire, or whatever it may be, that could be the time where your house becomes in jeopardy." He says an ember can start a fire in just a handful of pine needles.
Increasing defensible space isn’t about creating a rock-filled moon-scape in your yard, says Hawkins. What you remove is just as important as what you plant, "How can we incorporate fire resistive fuels that are native to the area?" The state's new defensible space website can help. "Oregon State University maintains a fire resistive plant guide, for example. That’s on there so you can pull that as you build a fire resistive landscape." Property owners can also request a walk-through with an expert, "We have deputy state fire marshals in the field, and also fire service partners, that are willing to come out and do one-on-one defensible space assessments with you as the property owner or business owner, to give you just general guidelines and recommendations. "
Hawkins admits defensible space isn’t a guarantee against wildfire, but he says it should buy a little time for firefighters to arrive.