We need smarter ways to deal with fire in the very flammable Southern Oregon. We need to:
- Stop reacting to wildfire ignitions and take the initiative to manage fire.
- Fuel treatments must greatly increase. Controlled burn, chip, masticate, thin-pile-burn, all of it. Do it on days when unstable atmospheric conditions lift the smoke away. Do it in strategic locations that will actually meet wildfire where it is most likely to occur. Do it to restore forest resilience. Just do it.
- Zoning must be based on science, not revenue.
- Building codes must be based on science.
- Wildfire management needs to focus on ‘herding’ fires away from structures.
- Funding for fire research must be stable and plentiful. We need answers.
Why is this necessary?
There is a need to restore the function that provides the structure of our forests. Since 1911 we have been suppressing fires to the maximum extent possible. For the most part that meant suppressing fires with an average flame length of less than 6 to 8 feet. Flame length is a rough proxy for fire severity. In mixed conifer forests, fires of less than 6-8 foot average flame length are considered low and moderate fire severity. Exactly the kind of fires that reduce fuel loading without killing all of the large overstory trees. So to some extent, we have been putting out fires that would have maintained the forest and prevented high severity fires. We have been putting out the gentle fires that would have prevented the house-eating crown fires we see today.
The average daily maximum in July is now two degrees warmer than the average for the 106 years of record at Medford Oregon. This translates into longer more severe fire seasons. It is getting warmer. We not only need to restore fire as a function, we need to deal with the effects of climate change.
We have endured 6 to 8 week periods of dense smoke in southwest Oregon, so dense that doctors warned us to stay inside. We lost over 10,000 homes in California last year, clearly the government is not performing a basic function of security from wildfire. In the short term we can use controlled burning, and mechanical treatments to change fuel profiles. According to the fire modelers, treatments of as little as 10% of the landscape in strategic locations have been shown effective at reducing overall potential wildfire severity. Medium-term, we need zoning and building codes for the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) in a warming world. Long term we need to restore fire to our forests in a way that reduces the losses of people and property and restores the forest ecosystem.
How do we accomplish this?
We need more and better trained and paid fire use crews. Crews that work suppression in summer, but in spring, late fall, even winter in some areas they work managing fuels and doing controlled burning. Crews must be available to burn on every good (unstable atmosphere) air day.
We need better weather forecasting and spot weather forecasting. We need to use every single one of those unstable days, when smoke will rise to the upper atmosphere.
We need to use Minimum Impact Suppression Techniques (MIST) where appropriate.
We need zoning to require fire safe structures in certain areas.
We need building codes that reduce home ignitability in a wildfire.
Finally, perhaps most important, we need to deal with climate change. We need to get ready for severe fire weather in warming conditions.