Our Future With Fire: Putting Communities First

More fire awaits us in a warming climate. Jesse Cruz Richards maps out some cost-effective ways to invest in community-centered approaches to preparing for fire.


Jesse Cruz Richards
Blog post by Jesse Cruz Richards

We know wildfire has been a part of Oregon’s landscape for a long time. Today, we are seeing increased drought and strong wind events, and we can expect to see these increases into the future. The Willamette River Network aims to coordinate with the philanthropic community to invest more heavily into cost-effective, community-centered approaches to living with fire. We believe the best approach is to set policy that prioritizes spending dollars near communities so all Oregonians are prepared for future fires. The top experts tell us that we have the best chance of living with wildfire if we focus from the home outward. We do this by creating fire adapted communities and by preparing for future fires by funding local fire-brigades and training a wildfire workforce.

Create Fire-Adapted Communities

If we want to increase the resiliency of infrastructure, the effectiveness of our emergency response, and the safety of our communities, the experts tell us to work from the home outwards, not from the forest in.

  • Defensible Space in a Focused Area – Decades of research by the insurance industry, top fire scientists, and agencies has made clear the importance of focusing our vegetation management in and around homes and communities and within the Home Ignitions Zone. By focusing on this landscape, we can prepare our communities for fire.
  • Home Hardening and Building Codes – A fire-hardened home has a 90-95% chance of surviving an extreme fire. Research shows that simple things, like installing gutter guards or removing gutters, installing ember-proof vents, and having hardscaping around the perimeter, are simple and effective steps that homeowners can take to reduce the ignitability of their home. Low-cost retrofits and new construction standards work to keep homes from burning and are durable over time.

Preparing for and Responding to Future fires

Oregon needs to support and train a new generation of fire professionals who can protect communities and do so cost-effectively.

  • Adequate Funding for Local Fire Brigades – Oregon needs to restore adequate funding to local communities and their fire departments so that those communities can have adequate first response when wildfire comes, and be able to stay and put out the fires that ignite homes and structures in the community.
  • Training a Wildfire Workforce – Successfully living with the risk of fire in the future requires a new generation of fire professionals equipped with new tools. We need to train a workforce that is ready to reduce fuel risks in the home ignition zone (HIZ) and in a well-defined Wildland Urban Interface. This is a task we can take on. This is a cost-effective approach to adapting to our fire-prone future. Oregon has public-private partnerships that have a track record of success, like the Northwest Youth Corps program that reduces fuels in the home ignition zone.