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Home Wildfire Safety
Poster of Home Wildfire Awareness
More and more Oregonians are living in what is known as the wildland-urban interface - where homes and other structures are built in or near forests.  This population expansion into rural areas has increased the risk of human-caused fires in the forest and has also placed more lives and property in the potential path of fires from forestlands. Today, more than a quarter-million homes in Oregon are at high risk from wildfire.  Out of the 15.8 million acres of private and public forestland protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry, 3.5 million acres are considered wildland-urban interface.
 
On average, about two-thirds of the 1,100-odd fires on state-protected lands each year are caused by people, with the majority of them preventable.  The information on this web page is intended to educate forest landowners, other rural residents, and the public about the threat of wildfire and actions they can take to lower the risk. Topics include:
  • Safe Debris Burning and Alternatives to Burning
  • Barbecue Safety
  • Defensible Space - including Fire-Resistant Plants and Landscaping
  • Motorcycle and Off-Road Vehicle Safety
  • Safe Campfires
  • Firework Safety
  • Lookout/Aerial Detection Cameras
 
Included here on this web page are some quick, simple, and relatively inexpensive actions that residents can take while living, recreating, and enjoying outdoor activities in Oregon's urban-wildland interface and forests.

Safe Debris Burning and Alternatives to Burning
Photo of community disposal of woody vegetation
Community disposal of woody vegetation
Spring is the perfect time to remove dead vegetation and limb up trees around the backyard.  By taking these steps, homeowners in Oregon's wildland-urban interface areas can reduce the chances of a wildfire devastating their properties.
 
Safe disposal of shrub and tree trimmings after spring clean-up work is crucial. Every year across the state, backyard debris burns to remove yard waste escape to become costly, damaging wildfires.  This past year, 206 debris burns turned into wildfires, burning more than 400 acres and costing over $280,000 to suppress.  The majority of these fires were started on small parcels of land, in the wildland-urban interface, by the landowners.
 
Many communities offer services for disposal of woody debris - from accepting it at a landfill or transfer station to community chipping machines and services.  Home composting and chipping are also excellent ways to dispose of your debris.  These are the safest methods for disposal of woody debris, but if those choices are not available to you and burning is your only option, please follow some simple tips for safe burning responsibly.
 

Barbecue Safety
Whether in your own backyard or camping, barbecuing is a great tradition in Oregon and a welcome activity.  By following a few simple safety tips, you can have a safe barbecue wherever you choose to cook in the outdoors.
  • Set up the grill away from structures and vehicles
  • Clear the ground around the barbecue of all dry vegetation and other flammable material
  • Make sure there are no overhanging tree limbs.  The heat from a barbecue can reach well above the grill's surface
  • When cooking with a charcoal grill in your backyard, have a charged garden hose near by
  • Before disposing of used charcoal, remove the brickets with a metal scoop and place them in a metal bucket filled with water, soaking them thoroughly
  • Never leave the grill unattended when cooking or while it contains residual heat
 

Defensible Space
An illustration of defensible space created around a residence
Defensible space surrounding a residence
Creating defensible space around your home is the best way to protect your home from wildfire.  The first 30 feet surrounding your home - referred to as the primary ignition zone - is the most critical - and there are some simple actions that a homeowner can take to help protect their homes from wildfire that are easy, quick, and relatively inexpensive, such as:
  • Removing dead and dying debris - particularly from places that it piles up near the  home such as in gutters and planters, any "valleys" that can catch debris that embers and sparks can blow onto - the most common way for a wildfire to damage or destroy a home in the wildland-urban interface.
  • Storing firewood at least 20 feet away from the home or completely covering it to protect it from those same blowing embers and sparks.
  • Properly maintaining the plants that are in the area - pruning, removing dead and dying materials, and keeping them well-watered and green.
A defensible space also allows room for firefighters to fight the fire safely.
 
Protecting your home from wildfire falls into three categories:
  • using fire-resistant building materials (such as roofing)
  • reducing fuels around your home (such as wood piles)
  • planting fire-resistant plants in your landscape
While these steps do not ensure that your home will survive a wildfire, they substantially increase the chances that it will.
 
The below photos illusltrate a residence in northwest Oregon before and after actions were taken to protect this home from wildfire. 
 
   
   

 The front-center of the residence ("Before")
The front-center of the same residence ("After") 
 
 

Fire-resistant plantings and landscaping
Fire-resistant plantings and landscaping is another great way to protect your home from wildfire.  Using alternative building materials, proper spacing of materials - keeping flammable materials away from the adjacent area of your home, and using fire-resistant plants can greatly reduce your wildfire risk.
 
Fire-resistant plants do not readily ignite from a flame or other ignition sources. They may be damaged or even killed by fire, but their foliage and stems do not significantly contribute to the fire's intensity. They can be used to create a fuel break that reduces and blocks intense heat.
 
Plants that are fire-resistant have moist and supple leaves; little dead wood or accumulated dry, dead material within the plant; water-like sap with no strong odor; and low sap and resin.  Most deciduous trees and shrubs are fire-resistant.
 
Plants that are highly flammable generally have fine, dry or dead leaves or needles within the plant; their leaves, twigs and stems contain volatile waxes or oils; the leaves have a strong odor when crushed; the sap is gummy, resinous and has a strong odor; and some plants have loose or papery bark.  An example of a highly flammable shrub that is often planted in home landscapes is juniper.  It accumulates dead needles within the plant and has volatile oils in the foliage.
 
Even fire-resistant plants will burn if not well-maintained, so be sure to keep all of your landscape plants healthy with watering and pruning. Annuals also can be part of a fire-resistant landscape if well watered and maintained, as can a well-maintained lawn. Bark mulch, however, can ignite easily, gravel or decorative rock can be good substitutes.  Conifers and other large trees that are next to the house should be pruned to a height of 15–20 feet above the ground, or to just above the lower roof line, to keep fire from reaching the house or tree crowns.
 
Remember:  Fire resistant does not mean fire proof!
 
Check with local Extension Offices or a nursery to find out which plants are adaptable to your area and to avoid planting invasive plants.
 
Below are links to two useful publications for Oregonians on fire resistant plants and landscaping that are available here in PDF format or via Oregon State University Extension Service
 

Motorcycle and Off-Road Vehicle Fire Safety
Photo of off-road vehicle riding on a trail through a northwest Oregon forest
Off-road vehicles are becoming increasingly popular
Motorcycles and off-highway vehicles continue to become more and more popular and can be a fun outdoor activity.  Safety is always a primary consideration and fire safety is part of that. Each year, users of these types of vehicles - usually unknowingly - are responsible for human-caused wildfires.
 

Safe Campfires
Nothing beats a campfire - for warmth, atmosphere, cooking s'mores and roasting marshmallows, and just plain fun!  Campfires can also be dangerous - each year, escaped campfires cause wildfires, destroying forest resources and costing precious dollars to suppress.  When choosing to use a campfire, do so responsibly:
  • Call the local fire district to ensure that open fires are allowed where you plan to camp.
  • Check the rules for fire tools that apply to your campsite. These may vary, but at a minimum have a one gallon or larger bucket filled with water, a shovel and an ax.
  • Select a site for your campfire that is away from buildings, autos, tree trunks, fallen trees and low overhanging branches.
  • Scrape all leaves and litter away down to bare earth for at least five feet on all sides of the fire. Surround the campfire site with rocks.
  • Build your campfire downwind and at a safe distance from your tent.
  • After you light the campfire, throw the match into the fire. 
  • Use your bucket of water or shovel on any possible sparks that hav escaped the campfire
  • Never leave the campfire unattended.
  • When it’s time to leave the campfire, make sure you put it out – DEAD OUT! Drown all embers, sticks, and coals, especially those that might have fallen under the rocks. Stir the coals to make sure all heat has been removed, then drown the area again.
  • Children should never be left unsupervised around campfires.
  • Only adults should attempt to extinguish a campfire, so that children do not get steam burns from pouring water on a hot fire.  Adults should be upwind of a campfire when pouring water onto the fire to put it out to minimize the risk of them getting burned by the steam.
 

Fireworks Safety
Photo of a fireworks display
Everyone enjoys a great fireworks show - especially when celebrating our country's independence on the Fourth of July.  However, even legal fireworks can start wildfires, and if you or a child under your supervision causes a wildfire with fireworks, you may be liable to pay the fire suppression costs.  On a large fire, this can run into millions of dollars.
 
Fireworks are prohibited from most forested areas as well as the wildland-urban interface.  In areas where fireworks are allowed, they must be of a type that does not fly, explode, or travel more than 12 feet along the ground. Bottle rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers are illegal in Oregon.
 
More information about the legal restrictions on fireworks in Oregon can be found on the State Fire Marshal's website.
 

Lookout/Aerial Fire Detection Cameras
Photo of a fire detection camera on a look-out tower in Douglas County
A fire detection camera on a lookout tower in Douglas County
Fire lookouts, once the only means of detecting wildfire starts, have since been augmented with aerial patrols. And recently, automated detection systems have further enhanced fire detection. Staffed by expert observers, fire lookouts are located at vantage points with a broad view of the forest. Aerial patrols are flown in small airplanes following thunderstorm activity to detect lightning-caused fire starts. Automated smoke detection systems combine video cameras with sophisticated computer technology to scan the forest landscape 24/7, identifying possible wildfire starts, and reporting them to fire managers.
 

Wildfire Awareness Week
Photo of smoke and flame near a home in central Oregon from the Awbrey Butte Fire
Awbrey Butte Fire in Central Oregon
Each year, the first week in May is proclaimed "Wildfire Awareness Week."  This week is set aside each spring to remind everyone that we live in a beautiful, but high wildfire-risk state.
 
Living here comes with a price.  And if we are going to "keep Oregon green", we all need to do our part to act responsibly while living and recreating in Oregon's forests and rangelands. 
 

Learn more . . .
More information about home wildfire safety is available: