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Environment, Energy and Transportation

Southern Oregon Wildfire Forum: No Easy Answers

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Jes Burns / OPB
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BLM fire manager Jon Larson walks the perimeter of a 138-acre prescribed burn in the Applegate Valley near Ruch, in Jackson County, Oregon. Projects like this are seen as key to reducing wildfire.

A panel of state and local fire officials told the audience at a forum in Medford Thursday night that the longer, more intense wildfire seasons the region has been experiencing are not going away anytime soon. 

Forum organizer, Oregon State Representative Pam Marsh of Ashland, asked the panelists what can be done about the growing impacts of wildfires and smoke. They detailed plans to reduce wildfire threats by thinning and using prescribed burning in overgrown forests.

But Chris Chambers, Forest Division Chief with Ashland Fire and Rescue, quoted a warning from fire researcher Paul Hessberg.

"There is no future without fire and smoke. That option is actually not on the table."

Chambers said the only real choice is whether to put up with some smoke from prescribed burning in the spring and fall, or to endure months of heavy summer smoke from wildfires.

But even with an aggressive program of forest treatment, Chambers said, it could take several decades to see results.

Gene Davies, chief of the Greensprings Volunteer Fire Department, said he’s bracing for progressively worse fire seasons.

'I am very concerned that what we’ve been seeing in the last few years is not so much the new normal," he said, "but perhaps just the beginning of a trend that is going to escalate a little bit every year."

Governor Kate Brown has said she’ll form a commission to study best options for dealing with wildfires and the economic and health impacts they have on communities. She’s expected to sign that executive order by the end of the month.