WILDFIRESRecent Wildfires Have Hurt Communities, But With Better Planning We Can Thrive With Fire
Even though fire has always been an integral part of these forests, 21st century wildfires pose unique challenges to communities as there are now over 40-million homes in fire-prone landscapes throughout the West. These challenges are very real and deserve thoughtful, science-based policy solutions; however, we must always keep in mind that even the largest and most intense wildfires are not “disasters” for forest ecosystems.
Columbia River Gorge Fire
In 2017, the Eagle Creek fire burned through the Columbia River Gorge. The news reports said that over 50,000 acres were destroyed, and Portland was blanketed in smoke. Many beloved trails were burned and access was limited. Trailkeepers of Oregon, Friends of the Gorge, Pacific Crest Trail Association stepped up to work with Oregon State Parks and the Forest Service to form dozens of expert trail crews to repair and re-open trails. At the same time, wildlife and time-lapse photographers set out to capture the Gorge as the new forest emerged from the burn. While the fire burned a perimeter of 50,000 acres, only around 8,000 acres burned at high severity. Even in those areas, photographers documented bears, cougars, elk, bobcat, deer, skunk, coyote and captured new growth bursting from the forest floor.
Oregon, California & Washington experienced extreme wildfires, as power lines, arson and other human caused fire starts were driven by extreme winds and drought into communities, destroying thousands of homes and upending lives. Toxic and hazardous smoke poured into our towns and cities. While these events have been commonplace in California, wildfires in Oregon burned through the heart of the Cascades and parts of Portland, Salem and Eugene were put in wildfire alert.
For decades, industry has stoked fear of fire and contended that a lack of “management” is the problem. These wind and drought driven fires laid bare the fallacy of these contentions, and amply demonstrate that doubling down on these strategies is running in the wrong direction twice as fast. With these fires, the political and social moment has arrived where we need to determine how to prepare our communities for more fire in the future. What can we do now and how can we work with firefighters, indigenous fire practitioners and forest, climate, health, and environmental justice advocates to move towards ecological fire management and investments to protect our communities from fire.
Home hardening means taking steps to reduce the vulnerability of your home to catch fire. According to the top experts, the conditions of your home and the surrounding 100 feet determine how vulnerable you are to fire. You can take effective actions at the home site to mitigate wildfire risk, like using fire-resistant building materials, clearing roofs and gutters of tree needles and debris, and reducing vegetation around the home, all of which reduce the possibility of potential damages and losses.