wildfire

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The last few fire seasons prodded many of us to think differently about wildfire.  People who don't live particularly close to forests became aware of the risk of fires burning through neighborhoods in town, as they did in Redding and Paradise and elsewhere. 

The U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry offer a new tool to get a graphic look at wildfire risk.  It's an online map that incorporates wildfire history and fire risk, the Wildfire Risk Explorer

Bert Johnson/Capital Public Radio

The 2019 fire season is here, and the National Weather Service is issuing a "red flag" warning for this weekend in parts of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys.

North winds will develop overnight on Friday, and will increase on Saturday to become “quite strong,” according to NWS meteorologist Cory Mueller.

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The destructive fire seasons of recent years have focused attention anew on evacuation. Plans for getting people away from fires were not adequate in both Paradise and Redding last year.

Now emergency managers are reconsidering evacuation planning on both sides of the state line. Emergency Management leaders at all levels have some ideas about how to proceed, while the fire department in Redding and the American Red Cross have some hard-earned experience.

The last few fire seasons have a lot of people thinking about smoke.  And one issue raised is the possibility of more controlled burns during the non-fire season. 

That would likely mean a bit of smoke in the fall, winter, and spring, in the hope of a lot LESS smoke in the summer.  Stanford University weighs in with a recent study that shows wildfire smoke is worse for children than the smoke from controlled burns.  

ODF

There were some complaints about the formation of the Oregon Wildfire Council, ordered by Governor Kate Brown. 

The complaints generally held that Oregon's recent wildfires demanded more robust action than some kind of committee.  But Ashland State Representative Pam Marsh is glad to be on the council, looking for appropriate actions to curtail the danger of wildfire and smoke. 

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It's not officially fire season yet on both sides of the state line, but tell that to the fires, like the two fires (near Butte Falls and Chiloquin) that scorched hundreds of acres in recent days. 

Hot weather is here and more regular fires will almost assuredly follow.  Agencies of many types are talking about preparedness. 

Those include Pacific Gas & Electric, which is blamed for some of the fires of recent years. PG&E plans more outages during times of high wildfire risk. 

And Ashland's CERT or Community Emergency Response Team is always trained for emergencies. 

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What started out as a summer job became a lifetime vocation for Clay Dickerson. 

The summer job was working on a fire crew near Grants Pass, and it led to a career that stretched across four decades, taking care of the region's forests and fighting fires when they burned. 

Clay tells the story in his memoir, Fire at My Feet

Josephine County Firewise

The days are getting slowly warmer, so fire season can't be far off.  It never is in our region.  Which is why Ashland Fire and Rescue adopted the Firewise USA program years ago, to help residents prepare their homes and neighborhoods to be as fire-resistant as possible. 

Dan Dawson is a member of the city's Wildfire Safety Commission and has made changes to his property to improve its odds of surviving a fire. 

ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0-igo, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59261701

What causes the intense and long fire seasons in California?  The Pacific jet stream, among other features. 

Penn State University researcher Alan Taylor says the Pacific jet determines where moisture goes in California, and its recent movements suggest more rain than snow, and continued hot, dry fire seasons. 

Taylor recently published research on the subject, including reconstruction of 400 years of data on the movements of the jet. 

Army Corps of Engineers

The smoke-filled summers are a recent addition to the region, for most of us.  But disasters like fires and floods are common through the years of recorded history here. 

Ron Brown, former TV newscaster and history buff, has lived through and covered quite a few of them.  He brings together a number of key events for a public talk through the Southern Oregon Historical Society, "Fire and Flood: Disasters in the Rogue Valley."

The event is Wednesday (March 6th) at Noon at the Medford Library. 

Canine Recovery Team

Archaeology tends to deal with events in the remote past.  But it also has value in the present; people with skills digging carefully in the ground have proven helpful in disaster situations. 

Like the deadly fires in California, where archaeologists and canine forensic units have helped recover human cremains.  Not people who died in the fire, but people already cremated whose families still had their ashes. 

That process--dogs and people--is the focus of this month's edition of Underground History, with our partners at the Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology

Guests are Lynne Engelbert of the Institute for Canine Forensics and Mike Newland at Environmental Science Associates

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Housing is already tight in both Oregon and California, and the Camp Fire wiped out nearly 14,000 homes in a single day.  Many decisions remain to be made about the future of Paradise, where most of the homes were lost. 

But there's a ripple effect elsewhere, as people driven out by the fire seek new places to live, either for now or for good.  We talk about the impacts with Steve Bade, who runs the Community Development office in Redding, Ryan Buras, a housing specialist at FEMA, Christina Curry at Cal OES, and Ashland realtor Colin Mullane, who is a past president of the Oregon Association of Realtors

The job title "firefighter" is self-explanatory; what it is is what they do. 

But wildland firefighters can have some questions about the tactics used on large fires.  That's the case with the group Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology, or FUSEE. 

FUSEE takes exception to the firefighting methods used in some environmentally sensitive areas, including on the Soberanes Fire in Southern California in 2016.  That fire alone cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars to fight, and included multiple retardant drops from planes, to little effect. 

Cal Fire

No one will soon forget the Carr Fire's destructive sweep into Redding in late July.  270 homes inside the city limits went up in smoke, hundreds more outside of town. 

The city government is putting some work into the idea of a fire fuels management district.  If created, the district would have taxing power to raise money for the clearing of brush and other fire fuels. 

April Ehrlich/JPR News

Far too many people had to get familiar with the insurance industry in California this year.  Fire destroyed hundreds of homes, many in the Redding area. 

The situation gets worse as the climate changes and the fire "season" goes year-round.  So California's Insurance Commissioner ordered a report on the financial stresses on the insurance system, which is forced to pay out billions of dollars for people who lost property to fire and other disasters. 

The report--appropriately called "Trial By Fire"--came out in September. 

Liam Moriarty/JPR News

West Coast businesses that depend on the summertime tourist dollar took a big hit from this years’ wildfires and smoke.

The same thing happened last year. And two years before that. Now, the idea that smoky summers may become the norm is beginning to take hold, and tourist operators -- and the towns that rely on them -- are looking for ways to adapt.


RitaE/Pixabay

If you pay much attention to the details of wildland firefighting, you see references to "structural protection crews."  These are the firefighters trained to protect buildings in and near the forest, a different skillset to building lines around wildfires. 

The skills are needed because of people living in homes near and among the trees.  As fires grow bigger and more destructive, more people question the practice of living in fire-prone country. 

Jeffrey Kline researches this and other issues at the Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis. 

Sometime in July, the U.S. Forest Service air tanker base in Medford pumped its millionth gallon of fire retardant into a plane. 

That was just a week after lightning started many fires around the region, and a figure usually not reached until the end of fire season.  Across the country, the use of the red slurry has doubled as fires and fire seasons have grown more intense. 

You can't have a forest fire without an argument about what contributed to the severity of the fire.  Now researchers from the forestry departments at Humboldt State and Oregon State Universities weigh in with research on differences between public and private land. 

In general, the work found that the fire severity is greater on private lands with younger trees, most of the same type. 

Conversely, the fire severity was less on adjacent public lands with greater variety of tree species and age. 

ODF

Not only is fire season generally longer in our part of the world, but the fires themselves act differently. 

Managers on a number of recent fires reported fire behavior they had never seen before. 

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