By Jonny Lupsha, Current Events Writer
A wildfire of truly epic proportions is burning in Oregon. Firefighters have reported weeks straight of extreme fire behavior, making the blaze difficult to control. Proper preparedness in a wildfire can save lives.
Small tornadoes of fire, flames that burn through tree branches and leaves independently of the fire on the ground, and other phenomena are all rampant in Oregon’s Bootleg Fire, which was already Oregon’s third-largest fire since 1900, as of press time. Oregon firefighters have said that these factors make the fire notoriously difficult to control. Additionally, fires with these phenomena generate their own weather, making containment all the more difficult.
Most of us learned basic fire safety in school with regard to house fires. But what about wildfires? In his video series When Everything Fails: Surviving Any Disaster, Dr. Stephen Owen, Professor of Criminal Justice at Radford University, said the first step is understanding the wildland-urban interface.
Where Outside Meets the Great Outdoors
“Conceptually, the wildland-urban interface is critically important to wildfire preparedness,” Dr. Owen said. “There are a number of technical definitions, but it essentially refers to the boundary between true wildlands and lands that have been developed for human habitation and commerce. There is rarely a fine line, but rather a blurring of one into the other, and it is in the area of wildland-urban interface where wildfire concerns post the greatest human impacts.”
Since a home with a view of nature is so desirable to so many people, the wildland-urban interface has grown in population, with more and more homeowners seeking to live right on the border of a residential neighborhood and the great outdoors. This means a higher population is at risk of the dangers of wildfires.
“Because wildfires are a significant problem addressing large areas, several programs have been established to help prepare for them,” Dr. Owen said. “These include programs like Firewise USA, sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association; Ready, Set, Go!, developed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection; and Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, a program of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.”
If you live in an area affected by wildfires, paying attention to these programs is vital. So is heeding their advice and knowing other ways to be prepared.
“First, if told to evacuate, go,” Dr. Owen said. “Have your go kit prepared, gather family and pets, and move out quickly if necessary. Second, meet regularly as a community with fire officials; they can help you best understand preparedness measures and how home or landscape design can help prevent fire.”
The third tip for wildfire preparedness is to be aware of issues that may affect the air quality in your area. Whether anyone in your home has respiratory issues or not, the hot and smoky air that can come with a wildfire makes breathing more difficult. Fourth, Dr. Owen said, make sure you know your local geography, including which roads and routes in your neighborhood lead out and if any of them are out due to blockage.
“Fifth, consider how design can contribute to fire protection,” he said. “While some fires cannot be prevented and are so large that they will destroy wildland-urban interface areas, there are steps that property owners can take to enhance protections.”
For example, following construction codes that use fire-resistant materials can help. So can keeping clear zones outside your home’s entrances and exits that’s free of flammable things like shrubbery, trees, and mulch—and checking them regularly.
Thankfully, the Bootleg Fire in Oregon is in a sparsely populated area. By taking proper precautions in at-risk areas, residents can be safe and stay one step ahead of nature.