Fire season is already under way in Oregon, with some small fires burning in the southwest part of the state, and state and federal officials are talking about options for funding firefighting efforts.
On May 17, Governor Tina Kotek announced she was adding over $200 million in funding for the state’s wildfire protection system to her budget request to the state legislature. “We need to continue to support things that have worked,” Kotek said in a press conference covered by KEZI-TV. “We need another $207 million to continue our advancements in wildfire protection, in both resilience and protection and response, and I would hope legislators would support that.”
In Washington, D.C., Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden are working on legislation to create national recreation areas across the state. That distinction would require wildfire prevention strategies in the region. “The bill requires the Bureau of Land Management to take preemptive steps to reduce wildfire risks in the new recreation areas,” Wyden said at a Senate committee hearing, “including the construction of new roads to implement fire risk reduction plans and for public safety.”
Fire departments and districts have also received additional funding for firefighters, engines, and risk reduction programs. Much of that funding comes from 2021’s Senate Bill 762.
“Senate Bill 762 was a major investment in in fighting wildfire in Oregon, and it was a huge help for not only the Oregon Department of Forestry but other wildfire agencies in the state,” said Jessica Prakke, PAO with the Oregon Department of Forestry. The legislation provided $220 million to agencies to modernize and improve wildfire preparedness, response, and resiliency. “It was a huge investment in protecting Oregon from wildfire and it has done an immense amount of good across the state,” she said.
She said the funding also expanded the state’s network of wildfire detection cameras. One such camera caught a fire caused by a lightning strike in Lane County. On the night of May 15 a camera alerted ODF staff to smoke in between Sharps Creek and Mosby. A staffer monitoring the cameras dispatched fire crews to the site, and they had the fire under control within three hours. Prakke said there are now nearly 100 cameras at 60 sites across the state. The system also uses a mapping system to help pinpoint smokes for dispatchers and first responders.
Prevention is the key for a successful season, said Prakke. “The best way to stop wildfire is for people to keep wildfire prevention at the top of their mind,” she said. “About 70 percent of all wildfire in Oregon is human-caused, and so the less that we can contribute to wildfire on our parts, the less our resources are strained to fight other causes of wildfire.”