Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Victims Share Insights from Recent Catastrophic Fires at Cohesive Strategy Learning Event

Top: Rick Stratton sharing value of the Quantitative Wildfire Risk Assessment. Bottom: Caerleon Safford sharing impacts and lessons learned from Sonoma County's 2017 fires and Jeff Johnson from the Western Association of Fire Chiefs calling the group to action.

Over 200 stakeholders from across five counties in Oregon came together on April 18th for a unique Cohesive Strategy learning experience - Can Central Oregon Become Another Paradise? The event kicked off with sobering accounts from four individuals who experienced the 2014/2015 Carlton and Okanagan Complexes in Washington, the 2017 Thomas, the 2017 Tubbs and the 2018 Camp Fires in California . The agenda included a "hard truth" look at what residents and fire professionals wished they knew before the fires that could have helped them better prepare for their individual fire experiences and post fire impacts. 

Followed by a large-scale, catastrophic fire simulation, elected officials and representatives from local, state, Tribal and federal fire and land management agencies, law enforcement, emergency management and the department of transportation saw first hand the chaos that ensues when confronted with a fire siege much like the Camp Fire in Paradise, California last year. 

Building on the examples earlier in the day and the simulation, participants worked through additional exercises to daylight lessons learned from the event as well as key messages that they feel the public should receive. The day ended with individuals from the audience sharing their "aha" moments from the event and their personal and agency commitments to changing behaviors to avoid these types of large-scale disasters and post fire impacts. Some of those included:

  • Increasing the focus on hazardous fuels reduction in the 50-100 feet around homes and structures (FireFree, Firewise).
  • An increased focus on evacuating early, not waiting for an agency to tell you when to go (Ready, Set, GO!)
  • Identifying vulnerable populations and planning for how to evacuate them early.
  • Ensuring all city and county officials on the same page regarding land use planning.
  • Participation in the new Oregon Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy organization.
  • Lobby congressional delegations and state government to take wildfire as seriously as hurricanes.
  • Increased protections for cell towers and other communications infrastructure including backups. 
  • Locating additional evacuation centers for large-scale evacuations.
  • Ensuring city and county codes address wildland fire hazards.

The Western Region of the Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy effort conducts these "Learning Labs" for all levels of stakeholders as a fresh approach to learning valuable lessons about working better together before smoke is in the air to address key issues in communities. To find out more about a hosting a Learning Lab in your area, contact our Coordinator Kate Lighthall


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