Communities in Oregon and Washington most threatened by wildfire identified

After assessing the exposure to wildfire of communities across the Pacific Northwest Region, Oregon and Washington, the 50 most-threatened communities in each state were identified.

In the broadest sense, wildfire exposure encompasses the likelihood of wildfire burning a given location on the landscape, and the potential intensity of a wildfire if one were to occur. For this assessment the researchers focused only on wildfire likelihood because the effect of fire intensity on home loss rate is not well studied, and because the inclusion of intensity for this and similar assessments did not influence the conclusions. Wildfire likelihood is measured by annual burn probability, a measure generated by comprehensive simulation of wildfire occurrence and spread (see section below on Wildfire hazard simulations).

Washington Oregon communities exposed wildfire

Oregon top 10 wildfire exposed communities
The 10 communities in Washington with greatest cumulative housing-unit exposure to wildfire. The “mean of exposed housing units” rank indicates the mean (typical) burn probability of housing units within each community.

Oregon top 10 wildfire exposed communities
The 10 communities in Oregon with greatest cumulative housing-unit exposure to wildfire. The
“mean of exposed housing units” rank indicates the mean (typical) burn probability of housing units within each community.

The research was commissioned by the U.S. Forest Service’s Northwest Region.

More details, including lists of the 50 most threatened communities in both Oregon and Washington, can be found here.

Photos from the Dowens 2 Fire in western Oregon

Dowens 2 Fire Oregon wildfire
Dowens 2 Fire. Oregon Department of Forestry photo by Marcus Kauffman.

Marcus Kauffman, a Public Information Officer with the Oregon Department of Forestry, sent us this excellent photo (above) that he took May 10 on the Dowens 2 Fire about 15 miles south of Eugene, Oregon. We looked for more information about blaze and found more very good photos on one of the ODF’s Facebook pages —  those images are below.

The fire started at 4 p.m. on May 10 and burned 76 acres east of Cottage Grove. The ODF led a response that included three helicopters, two dozers, more than 25 structural and wildland engines, and 130 personnel. The early season fire, burning in brush, logging slash and timber, destroyed one home. Rain on May 13 aided firefighters during mopup. It was declared contained on May 14, 2019.

Dowens 2 Fire Oregon wildfire
Dowens 2 Fire. A firefighter digs into burning duff. Oregon Department of Forestry photo.
Dowens 2 Fire Oregon wildfire
Dowens 2 Fire. Oregon Department of Forestry photo.
Dowens 2 Fire Oregon wildfire
Dowens 2 Fire near the Row River. Oregon Department of Forestry photo.

Two wildfire bills pending in D.C.

A Senator and a Representative in Oregon are pushing two bills that have been introduced in Congress that would affect wildland fire and forest management. One emphasized logging while the other is about mitigating hazardous fuels near communities.

Last week U.S. Rep. Greg Walden introduced the Resilient Federal Forests Act,  which would:

  • Reduce environmental compliance restrictions on projects up to 10,000 acres to treat forest stands affected by insects and disease in order to reduce hazardous fuels and protect watersheds. The limit would expand to 30,000 acres for collaborative projects.
  • Expedite salvage logging after fires.
  • Require replanting 75 percent of burned areas within five years.
  • Increase logging on Oregon and California Railroad lands in Western Oregon.
  • Remove the prohibition on logging trees over 21 inches in diameter in Eastern Oregon.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley is working to pass his Wildfire-Resilient Communities Act that stalled in the Senate last year. One of the main provisions is to appropriate $1 billion to the U.S. Forest Service for ramping up projects that would reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, including expanding the  U.S. Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. These projects would carry out hazardous fuels reduction activities on Forest Service lands in areas that are near at-risk communities, are high-value watersheds, or have very high wildfire potential. The goal is to create fire-adapted communities, restore and maintain resilient landscapes, and to achieve safe and effective fire response.

In another wildfire related issue, Senator Merkley said thanks to a $7 million appropriation from the federal government the Oregon National Guard trained 230 Guard members in March to fight fires and another 125 will be trained in July.

Warm, dry weather increases wildfire activity in western Washington and Oregon

A fire southeast of Salem prompted evacuat.ion orders Tuesday

Numerous wildfires have broken out recently in western Washington and northwest Oregon after several days of warm, dry, and windy weather.

“That’s a result of very strong dry eastern winds that have been pushing across the cascade mountain range and through the Columbia Gorge,” Northwest Coordination Center fire weather program manager John Saltenberger told KGW8 news.

A fire southeast of Salem, Oregon near Lyons jumped the Santiam River and prompted evacuation orders on Tuesday, which were lifted Wednesday. Reported Tuesday afternoon near the North Santiam State Recreation Area off Highway 22, it was mapped at 189 acres after firefighters stopped the spread. By Thursday morning they had a fire line around 80 percent of the perimeter.

A three-alarm vegetation fire south of Seattle in White Center started in a vacant lot Wednesday afternoon. Burning embers landed on the roof of an apartment building and set it ablaze, damaging all seven units in the structure.

The King County Sheriff’s Office reported that a 34-year old man was arrested, suspected of setting the fire.

No residents were injured but two firefighters were transported to a hospital with injuries that were not considered life-threatening.

TDN.com reported that the Washington DNR responded to eight wildfires in its seven-county Southwest Region on Wednesday — three in Cowlitz, two in Lewis, two in Clark and one in Wahkiakum.  All of the personnel from Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue, were out on fires Wednesday.

Below is an excerpt from TDN.com:

About 40 firefighters and three state helicopters Wednesday fought a wildfire east of Cathlamet that was estimated Tuesday at 40 acres but had grown to 100 acres Wednesday. DNR Spokeswoman Mary McDonald said late Wednesday afternoon it is considered contained.

The fire, which broke out Tuesday and was spread by brisk gusts, burned up a steep slope on the north side of State Route 4 in the Little Cape Horn area. The highway remained opened, said Russ Truman, fire dispatch and prevention officer for the State Department of Natural Resources regional office in Castle Rock.

McDonald said a DNR helicopter was rerouted from the wildfire near Cathlamet to Tower Road after reports the brush fire had reached a structure there. Further details were not available.

“We are tapped,” [ Cowlitz 2 Fire Chief Dave] LaFave said. “Our people are worn out. This is a record. I’ve been in this department 36 years, and I’ve never seen this. People need to stop burning. … There can’t be anything so pressing that (burning) needs to happen right now.”

Russ Truman, fire dispatch and prevention officer for the State Department of Natural Resources regional office in Castle Rock said “Things are burning like they do in September.”

Eatonville (referenced in the tweet below) is about 50 miles south of Seattle.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Stanley. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Comparing the Haines Index with the Hot-Dry-Windy Index

In a comment on the earlier post about the Hot-Dry-Windy Index (HDW), Brian Potter, a research meteorologist with the U.S. Forest Service, offered to provide some preliminary results looking at how HDW performed during the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire in Oregon, as well as how the Haines index performed during that fire.

The HDW is a new tool developed for firefighters to predict weather conditions which can affect the spread of wildfires. It is described as being very simple and only considers the atmospheric factors of heat, moisture, and wind.

Mr. Potter has provided three figures showing the weather indices computed from the National Weather Service’s NAM model analyses. Because they use a different model from the HDW website, he does not have historic percentile values for HDW, but they are illustrative, nonetheless. These are preliminary data and have not been through peer review or evaluation.

Here is a graph of HDW values compared to growth on the Chetco Bar Fire:hot dry windy index fire growth

Here are the Haines Index values for the mid-elevation version of the Index:

Haines index fire growth

And the high elevation version of the Haines Index:

Haines index fire growth

Mr. Potter said he has some thoughts about the graphs, but is interested in hearing what others take away from them.

The Chetco Bar Fire in southwest Oregon started July 12, 2017 and burned over 191,000 acres.

Chetco Bar Fire map
Map showing the location of the Chetco Bar Fire (on the left) in southwest Oregon, October 2, 2017. USFS.

Oregon county changes zoning to require new construction to be low density

Structures farther apart are less likely to ignite neighboring homes during a wildfire

Deschutes County in Oregon has approved new zoning that will require new construction on the west side of Bend to be low density and fire-resistant.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that the new regulation will result in 90 percent fewer homes in the area than the previous code permitted.

One contributing factor that led to more than 15,000 homes being destroyed in two fires in California in 2018, the Camp and Carr Fires, was the close spacing between the structures.

Paradise Camp fire homes burned
A neighborhood on Debbie Lane in Paradise, California, before and after the Camp Fire that started November 8, 2018. The homes were 14 to 18 feet apart.

Cities, counties, and planning boards (where they exist) are often under pressure to approve new housing developments. They want to expand their tax base. Developers try to fit as many homes into a new subdivision as possible to maximize their investment. This too often results in homes that are 20-feet apart. If one is ignited by a burning ember that may have traveled a quarter of a mile from a fire (or a burning home) the radiant heat alone can ignite the homes on both sides. Then you can have a self-powered conflagration spreading house to house through a city. As long as the structures are that close together, the homeowners have not reduced the fuel in the Home Ignition Zone within 100 feet of the structure, and the home itself is not built to FireWise standards, a massive disaster can be the result.

Reducing the chances that a fire in a populated area will turn into a disaster that burns thousands of homes involves at least three categories of factors, in addition to weather:

  • Envelope of the structure itself: characteristics of the roof, vents, siding, doors, windows, foundation, fences, eaves, and decks. A FEMA publication (13 MB) has excellent detailed recommendations. Headwaters Economics found that the cost of building a fire-resistant home is about the same as a standard home.
  • Home Ignition Zone — topography and fuel within 100 feet.
  • Community infrastructure and planning: distance to nearby structures, evacuation capability, safety zones, road and driveway width, turnarounds at the end of roads, signage, and emergency water supply. Again, the FEMA document has great recommendations.

More information about how to prevent wildfires from wiping out communities.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.