I recently attended a workshop designed to discuss the preparedness of Central Oregon for a wildland fire disaster.  The big question for the workshop was, “Can Central Oregon become another Paradise?”, referring to the tragedy in Paradise, CA last year from the Camp Fire.  Before I attended the workshop, I thought that Bend would never see a tragedy like Paradise, due to our different topography and surrounding landscape.  I was wrong.  The fire professionals who volunteered their time to speak at the workshop and produce a fire modeling simulation of large, catastrophic fire in Central Oregon proved to me and my fellow attendees, that yes, a horrific disaster like the Camp Fire can happen in Central Oregon.  And it is not a matter of “if” this happens, it is a matter of “when.”   

Wildfire is the single largest natural disaster threat to us in Central Oregon.  We live in a landscape that is susceptible to wildland fire, primarily starting from lightning strikes, but also from humans.  A wildfire threat to Bend may not be imminent, but it is inevitable.  As we have seen most recently in the past 30 years, the Awbrey Hall Fire, the Skeleton Fire, the Two Bulls Fire, have all impacted forest lands and residential communities in and around Bend.   

One of the consistent messages presented at the workshop by survivors of the Washington fires from 2016, the Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa in 2017, the Thomas fire in Santa Barbara, and the Camp Fire in Paradise, was “don’t think that this can’t happen to your community – it can!”  I feel extremely confident with the emergency responders in our area and have seen over the years the collaboration and efforts the different agencies and organizations have made to work together so that when a fire occurs there is cohesion and cooperation in how resources are deployed and utilized.  We will be in good hands when the fire strikes.  But we must take responsibility ourselves to help protect not only our families, pets, neighbors and friends, but also our fire professionals who are risking their lives to help evacuate and protect us.   

There are a few tips that I’d like to share with you that are easy to apply to your personal situation so that in the case of a wildland fire in or around Bend, you can be prepared and learn how to live with this risk.   

  1. Defensible Space around your home: One of the easiest and most impactful ways that we can protect our homes and ourselves is by creating defensible space around our homes.  This means reducing ignitions in close proximity to our homes, i.e. removing pine needles from the roof, removing debris from underneath trees, pruning and thinning trees.   Visit http://www.firefree.org/10steps/ for easy steps to help protect your home from being destroyed or damaged by wildfire.  Visit http://www.firefree.org/firefreeevents/ for more information about free dumping of yard debris at Knott Landfill during the month of May.   
  1. Another consideration in creating defensible space is to plant fire resistant plants in your yard and around your home.  Fire resistant plants are those that do not readily ignite from a flame or other ignition sources.  Here is a wonderful resource for those of us living in the Pacific Northwest: http://www.firefree.org/fireresistantplants/ 
  1. Ready Set Go evacuation planning: Residents should do what they can to prepare themselves and their properties against the threat of fire.  The Ready Set Go program was developed to help fire departments engage in a dialogue with residents about ways to create defensible space around their homes and protect their properties against fire threats. A great resource is the Personal Wildland Fire Action Guidehttps://www.wildlandfirersg.org/Explore/Resources-and-Tools , which provides easy steps for creating defensible space zones around your home and outlines the process for preparing and evacuating in the case of a fire.  For more information and resources, visit https://www.wildlandfirersg.org/ 
  1. CentralOregonFire.org –Living with wildland fire means living with smoke and using prescribed burns to help restore ecosystems that depend on fire.  Visit www.centraloregonfire.org to learn more about when and where prescribed burns are taking place in our region, and to monitor air quality.   

These are just a few ideas and resources that we can consider and use to help prepare and defend our properties from a fire and prepare our families for an evacuation.  I encourage everyone to read through these websites and learn as much as you can about how to successfully live in a fire-adapted community.  And if you live in a community with design guidelines and an owners association, be sure any steps you take are compliant with your guidelines and rules and regulations.  www.projectwildfire.org 

About the Author

Romy Mortensen,Vice President of Sales & Marketing

Romy has been with Brooks Resources for over 25 years. After graduating from the University of Oregon, School of Journalism, she started her career with the company as the administrative assistant to the general manager at Mount Bachelor Village. In 1996 she began working as the marketing coordinator at the corporate office, then was promoted to Director of Marketing shortly thereafter. She now serves as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing, overseeing all aspects of sales and marketing for each Brooks Resources project. In 2004 she was named project manager for North Rim and in 2013 became project manager for The Tree Farm. Romy is a licensed real estate broker in the state of Oregon.

Having a passion for civic engagement and connecting people, Romy serves on the boards of the Oregon Community Foundation, High Desert Museum, and Art in Public Places. She is chair of the Oregon Community Foundation Leadership Council of Central Oregon, and serves on the Advisory Board for The Bloom Project, of which she was a founding board member. This past year Romy concluded a nine year term as a board director for Oregon Public Broadcasting and continues to serve as a Central Oregon Ambassador.  An Oregonian, avid outdoors enthusiast and animal lover, Romy and her husband are parents to two pitbulls and take full advantage of the recreation Central Oregon has to offer.

Romy is a Leadership Bend alumna, Class of 2000.

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