PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – With more hot, dry days expected across the state, wildfire danger remains top of mind — and state officials are busy getting residents prepared to protect their homes and businesses in case they find themselves threatened.
Following 2020’s devastating fires, new legislation was passed to prevent the same kind of destruction, including adapting communities so they’re more resilient to fires in the future. On Tuesday night, officials met with residents in Wilsonville as part of efforts across the state to make sure communities are ready.
From Grants Pass and Medford to the Willamette Valley, more Oregon communities are impacted by wildfires and the state is using that to prepare as many residents as possible.
“For us, it wasn’t so much 2020 was a learning point,” said Alison Green, public affairs director for the Office of the State Fire Marshal. “It was honestly a historical moment that kind of helped us get some of these things taken care of through legislation.”
Legislation includes measures like Response Ready Oregon — spending $6 million to boost fire season staffing in 180 fire departments across the state. Another measure: Fire Adapted Oregon, which includes launching town hall meetings with residents from every corner — including one in Wilsonville on Tuesday night. Homeowners in high-risk areas learn how to protect their properties, with the fire marshal’s office preparing to put new mitigation standards in place across the state.
“We are essentially in an era of mega fires and fire season has been getting longer and longer and more impactful,” said Green.
Richard Carlson has a home in the Welches community of eastern Clackamas County and while they haven’t seen a fire reach their home, they want to be prepared.
“We have an HOA up there that when those houses were built, they were built so as many trees as possible would remain,” said Carlson, adding that as the state prepares its official guidelines for “defensible space,” measures like tree spacing and distance between tree canopies worried Carlson, who came to the state’s town hall for answers.
Carlson added “the only way you could have that 10 feet is to start to take down trees and on our property, alone, we’d probably have to take down at least 15 trees.”
Carlson says the town hall gave him some of the answers he sought, as the state works on efforts like removing a certain distance of limbs that are closer to the ground — somewhere between 6 to 15 feet — rather than removing entire trees to clear up canopy space.
The Office of the State Fire Marshal says 70% of these fires in Oregon are still human-caused, and as the state sees more people moving here, everyone needs to do their part to not only be educated, but ready.
“There’s an urgency right now,” said Green. “Oregon is paying attention. A lot of places that hadn’t seen fire in probably a generation, they’ve seen fire now.”
The state plans to adopt its first standard for defensible space by December 2022, with plans to enact it sometime in early 2023. The Office of the State Fire Marshal also plans to hold virtual defensible space meetings in the coming weeks that anyone can attend to learn more about what’s being done.