PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden told KOIN 6 News that more competitive pay for firefighters and continued wildfire prevention efforts remain crucial to limiting major fires ahead of the 2023 season.

“These are not your grandfather’s fires,” Wyden said. “They’re bigger, they’re hotter, they’re more powerful.”

Wyden said that some progress was made in providing firefighters with better pay in December, when he helped to secure nearly $4.4 billion in federal funding for wildfire suppression in 2023 — a 14% increase in funding compared to the previous fiscal year. 

The senator said that he has also requested a report from the Stanford Woods Institute’s Climate and Energy Policy Program that shows how Congress can further increase firefighter pay and training, and provide improved firefighting technology. The Institute’s Climate and Energy Policy Program program’s director Michael Wara was quoted echoing Wyden’s sentiments in a March press release.

“The Forest Service needs to offer competitive wages and they are moving in that direction,” Wara said. “I think that’s really important, and we need to double down on that.”

Following recent legislation, Wyden said that states are now able to retain their wildfire prevention funds instead of seeing the money depleted every year to help fight active wildfires.

“The ball game is all about prevention, and for years there wasn’t enough focus on prevention,” he said. “Then you’d have a big fire and all of a sudden people would raid the prevention money to put the fire out. To raid the prevention money is dumb even by Washington D.C. standards.”

Ahead of the 2023 wildfire season, areas of Central Oregon still face moderate to extreme levels of drought. Wyden said that will be a concern as the summer months grow closer.

“It looks like it’s going to be another tough one,” Wyden said. “There’s a lot of drought out there. It’s hot and dry. You’ve got all that fuel built up on the forest floor and then there is a thunderstorm and all of a sudden, you’ve got an inferno on your hands.”

Wildfire Preparedness Weekend

The World Forestry Center in Southwest Portland hosted “Wildfire Preparedness Weekend,” a family-friendly event Saturday that provided tips on how to reduce the risk of wildfires and how to protect their homes.

The event featured speakers, interactive exhibits and hands-on demonstrations.

Kim Kosmas, a spokesperson for Portland Fire & Rescue, said Oregonians need to adapt to the threat of wildfires.

It’s “something we need to learn how to live with to create resilient communities so that we can all be more fire-adopted communities,” Kosmas said.

The event also features a special art exhibit showcasing a series of wildfire paintings.

The event also takes place Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.