Text Size:   A+ A- A   •   Text Only
Site Image
Wildfire Awareness Week promotes fire-safe backyard clean-up
Contact: Mary Ellen Holly, 503-945-7499, or
Rod Nichols, 503-945-7425
Most residents of Oregon’s wildland-urban interface will never see a raging wildfire sweep through their neighborhood. But the chief threat to a home comes from above, in the form of flying embers often cast long distances by fire-generated winds. The best defense against this airborne hazard is to remove potential fuel - dead and dying vegetation - from your property.
An ember that lands where there is no dry grass or leaves will burn itself out. So, spring backyard clean-up should include disposing of winter-killed vegetation left on the ground, and limbing up trees. When lower tree limbs are pruned, a ground fire is less likely to climb into a tree and carry flames to the house. 
Another essential step in the annual clean-up is to dispose of shrub and tree trimmings safely. Every year across the state, people dispose of yard waste by burning it. These backyard burns often escape to become costly, damaging wildfires. In the past year, 182 debris burns turned into wildfires, burning more than 491 acres and costing over $400,000 to suppress. The majority of these fires were started on small parcels of land, in the wildland-urban interface, by the landowners.
Chipping yard waste for use as compost or hauling it to a recycler are the safest methods of disposal. But if these methods are not viable in your area, please follow these safety tips to keep your backyard debris burn from becoming a 911 call:

1. Call your local fire district for permission to burn. Local fire officials may require a permit and may designate certain days for burning, based on weather and wind conditions. In some areas, burning is not allowed at any time.

2. Burn ONLY backyard debris. Some plastics, treated lumber and other manufactured products give off toxic fumes. Burning of household garbage is not allowed at any time.

3. Clear a space at least five feet around the burn area. This clean space will help keep the fire from spreading.

4. Keep burn piles small. Add debris in small amounts as existing material is consumed. A burn pile is less likely to escape control if it is kept small. A large burn may cast hot embers long distances.

5. Attend your burn at all times. A burn left unattended for only a few minutes can grow into a costly, damaging wildfire.

6. Make sure your fire is dead out. When burning is completed, drown the fire with water, stir, and then drown again. Even when a fire stops smoking and appears to be out, an onset of windy, warm weather days or weeks later may rekindle it.

7. Make sure burn barrels have sufficient air flow. This allows the fire to burn more cleanly and produce less smoke.

8. Cover a burn barrel with one-fourth inch mesh screen. This size of screen keeps hot embers from escaping.

9. Keep burn barrels and burn piles away from structures, overhanging branches and autos.  
In addition to damaging property, escaped debris burns that become wildfires take a human toll: Every year, 69 percent of all burns treated at the Oregon Burn Center in Portland are the result of backyard debris burning. According to the Burn Center, nearly every adult treated said they had always used gasoline to burn their piles and nothing had ever happened in the past.
If your clothes should ignite, STOP, DROP, AND ROLL to smother the flames. NEVER, ever use gasoline or other accelerants to start or increase your burn. It isn’t the gas that ignites; it’s the fumes that the gas emits onto your clothing.
Done correctly, trimming landscape vegetation and taking other steps to create “defensible space” – a zone around the house cleared of flammable materials that will slow or stop flames and embers from reaching the structure – can greatly boost the odds of your home surviving a wildfire.
During Wildfire Awareness Week May 2-8, local, state and federal fire agencies are encouraging homeowners to take basic steps to protect their lives and property from wildfire. Tips on how to create defensible space can be found on the Keep Oregon Green website, www.keeporegongreen.com. Local rural fire departments, Office of the State Fire Marshal, and Oregon Department of Forestry offices are additional resources for this topic.