Biden Administration announces new community funding for prevention

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced on Sunday more than $21 million in new funding for wildfire risk reduction; she spoke during a press conference with Senator Jeff Merkley at the Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest District headquarters, according to a report by KEZI-TV News in Eugene, Oregon.

She said fire management agencies plan fuel management work on more than 170,000 acres in Oregon this year.

District Forester Mike Shaw said there’s good news with better snowpack this year. “I do project that we’re going to have another challenging fire season,” he said. “All hands on deck is the approach that we’re taking and all wildland fire agencies are working together.”

Senator Jeff Merkley, chairman of the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, joined Haaland and Shaw to emphasize their collaboration on wildfire prevention. “We’re really focusing on the front end of forest treatment and on the back end of having the resources to fight the fires,” Merkley said. “The key word here is collaboration.”

Aside from the millions in federal funding allotted from his bipartisan infrastructure law, Haaland said that President Biden is also supporting increased pay, better housing, and more full-time jobs for firefighters.

Vice President Kamala Harris joined other national leaders in the nation’s capitol to announce the new funding to help protect high-risk communities. “Our acres of burned land have doubled,” Harris said. “We need to change how we think about how we respond to fires. We need to prevent them, not just respond after they’ve started.”

Community Grants

KRDO News reported that $197 million in federal funding will be made available this year to 100 communities in 22 states and 7 Native American tribes. “There were 36 states and 45 tribes that applied for the funding,” Harris said. “This is the result of legislation I started years ago while I was in the Senate.”

She said she was motivated by recent destructive fires in her home state of California. “This will be the first of many grants,” she said. “We’re committing $1 billion over the next four years and $7 billion over the next ten years.”

Community near Heppner, Oregon first in Morrow County to earn Firewise designation

A bolt of lightning struck a tree just outside Bruce Wilcox’s home in Morrow County, Oregon last year, sending shards of wood flying 40 yards away. “It didn’t start a fire,” he said. “It just hit that tree and went to ground. But we were lucky.” Lightning-ignited fires are common in north-central Oregon, and Wilcox lives about 16 miles south of Heppner — home to the nearest fire department. Wilcox is helping his community, known locally as Blake Ranch, become the county’s first to join Firewise USA. He told Oregon Public Broadcasting that the Firewise program could be the key to protecting nearby homes from the next big wildfire.

FIREWISEFirewise is sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) manages the program at the state level. Through training and local fire prevention projects, Firewise encourages property owners to take proactive measures to prevent fires from destroying their homes and businesses. Many of Oregon’s small and isolated communities have achieved Firewise designation.

Jessica Prakke with ODF said these sparsely populated communities are among the target areas for the state. “We’re definitely trying to reach those smaller communities that are in the wildland/urban interface, because they can be the most susceptible to wildfire.”

In Blake Ranch, Wilcox contacted ODF after he read about a community in northeast Oregon’s Wallowa County that was participating. Since then, ODF has sent foresters to assess Blake Ranch properties for fire readiness, and some residents have taken a wildfire prevention class. Prakke said ODF doesn’t usually initiate the process of turning communities into Firewise sites, because the agency needs community buy-in to make the program work. Wilcox noted that some local residents are a little skeptical — they suspect the program might require them to remove trees they want to keep. But Wilcox thinks they’ll come around.

Morrow County FIREWISE

The Firewise program has an interactive map on the NFPA website with details about designated sites and their locations across the country, and it’s interesting to compare locations with known fire-danger areas. There’s a cluster of sites, for example, north of Paradise in northern California. One of the sites, Falcons Pointe Drive, is near Upper Bidwell Park in Chico. That community’s participation in the Firewise program began in September of 2022.


There are very few sites in Nevada and zero in North Dakota; about half of Colorado’s map is covered with little Firewise icons. While Oregon’s west side is not really known for severe wildfires, that side of the state surely proved the exception over the last few years, and it’s crowded with Firewise sites, while the east side of Oregon, no stranger to major fires, has only a few. Blake Ranch was just added to the list in December, and the numbers grow as people learn about neighborhoods and towns devastated by wildfires.

“The number of conversations I have had since Paradise has skyrocketed,” said Chris Chambers, Forest Division Chief in Ashland, Oregon. Residents and local officials in and around Ashland tend to be a little more fire-savvy than in many areas; they have a history with interface fires. Jefferson Public Radio reported, about a year after wildfire leveled the town of Paradise, that Chambers spoke to a throng of people at a sold-out screening of the documentary Fire In Paradise at a theater in downtown Ashland, just north of the California state line. Although the Camp Fire was more than 200 miles south, Chambers says it alarmed Ashland residents;  it’s a small, woodsy town that, like Paradise, is tucked into forest.

“People have really become concerned,” Chambers said. “I just hope that translates into lasting awareness in the sense that people take responsibility for the condition of their property.”

USFS bans exploding targets in their Northern Region

The U.S. Forest Service has banned the use of exploding targets in their Northern Region, which includes all lands administered by the USFS in the states of Montana and North Dakota, and in parts of South Dakota and northern Idaho. The ban, signed last week, will be in effect for a year, until May 9, 2015. This is considered a stop-gap measure while a longer term prohibition is being considered that will be incorporated into Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 261.

The decision by the Northern Region is in concert with other USFS areas that have banned the dangerous devices, including national forest system lands in the states of Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. 

The announcement about the ban, issued by Jonathan L. Herrick, Special Agent in Charge and Faye L. Krueger, Regional Forester, included this statement:

The purpose of the order is to enhance public safety, and to protect our natural resources and property by restricting the use of explosives and exploding targets.  The widening use of exploding targets on our National Forests and Grasslands has led to serious injuries, catastrophic wildfires, destruction of property and a significant loss and/or damage to our natural resources.  This order provides authority for FS law enforcement officials on all Forests/Grasslands in Region 1 to enforce this restriction and to enhance our ability to protect our natural resources and the people who use them.

On April 20 the Bureau of Land Management issued a ban on exploding targets on BLM lands within the state of Idaho, to be effective between May 10 and October 20, 2014.

Exploding targets have become popular in the last two years with shooters who get a thrill from seeing the explosion when their bullet hits its mark. We have documented numerous wildfires that have been started by the exploding targets. They are sometimes called “binary exploding targets”, since they are completely inert until two powders are mixed by the target shooter. After they are combined, the compound is illegal to transport and is classified as an explosive by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and is subject to the regulatory requirements in 27 CFR, Part 555.

In June, 2013, a man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota was killed by an exploding target. After someone shot the device, shrapnel struck 47-year-old Jeffery Taylor in the abdomen causing his death.

We have written about exploding targets numerous times, and applaud this decision by the USFS Northern Region. Hopefully the Regional Foresters in California, and Regions 4, 8, and 9 have the courage to take the same step. (See the map below to decode the region numbers.)

USFS Region 1

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Steve and Chuck.

Success story in the Klamath Mountains has an interesting article about how residents in the northern California community of Butler successfully prepared for and responded to the Butler Fire, part of the Orleans Complex, in August of 2013.

A significant investment in fire prevention work from the community, the US Forest Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service during and after these fire events allowed firefighters to safely defend the 10 structures there during the Butler Fire.

Butler folks had faced this event before and were prepared, with the help of the local community and firefighters, to defend their homes once again. An old ditch line constructed by miners in the 1800’s was identified after the 2008 fires as the place to hold future fires upslope of the homes. Thirteen acres of prescribed burns had been conducted by the Orleans Somes Bar Fire Safe Council between this ditch and the homes below, since 2008, and in the past two years, the Salmon River Fire Safe Council had brushed more than 10 acres along the ditch line.

Burnouts on the western flank of the 2013 Salmon River Complex in Murderer’s Gulch caused thousands of acres of plantations to burn at high intensity.

As the fire approached, 40-plus community members who had just mobilized to help save the town of Orleans from another arson fire, came up to see how they could pitch in. While some crews prepared the homes for fire, others established perimeter firelines and brushed along the main water line. Still others organized an emergency evacuation plan for volunteers. Some people brought food, and supplies like brass fittings to get hydrants online. And Rebecca Lawrence, a Facebook pro, whipped up the Salmon River and Orleans Complexities Open Group that allowed people to communicate and organize even when phones were out and roads were closed. When the agency hotshot crews showed up a couple days later, they were grateful for the prep work already accomplished that allowed them to focus on bringing the fire safely past the homes with minimal use of burnouts…

Below is a map that we published in an August 4, 2013 article about the Orleans and Salmon River Complexes of fires in northern California. The Butler Fire was in the eastern section of the Orleans Complex, 7 miles east of Orleans and about 49 miles northeast of Eureka. 

3-D Map of Salmon River and Orleans Complexes of fires August 3, 2013
3-D Map of Salmon River and Orleans Complexes of fires August 3, 2013 (click to enlarge)

Research: Firewise principles may not reduce suppression costs

Home threatened by the Colby fire east of Los Angeles, January 17, 2014.  Photo by John Stimson.
Home threatened by the Colby fire east of Los Angeles, January 17, 2014. Photo by John Stimson.

A study conducted by Headwaters Economics explored how firefighting costs might be affected by the application of Firewise principles in a community. To achieve official status as a Firewise Community, it must get a written wildfire risk assessment from their state forestry agency or fire department. Second, communities are required to generate an action plan and form a board or committee based on their risk assessment. Next, they must organize and hold a public education “Firewise Day” event. The final step before applying requires that they invest at least $2 per person in annual Firewise actions.

But those requirements do not guarantee that a large percentage of homeowners will actually take steps to create defensible space or use fire resistant building materials on their structures. There is also no requirement that a community construct a large-scale fuelbreak that would reduce the intensity of an approaching wildfire and the accompanying ember shower that is the culprit for igniting most homes during a fire seige.

The study analyzed costs of 111 fires. Their conclusion was:

We find no evidence of a relationship between suppression costs and Firewise participation represented by: (1) the percent of homes in Firewise Communities for the area within 6 mi. (9.7 km) of wildfires, and (2) the Firewise-related expenditures by residents. The lack of evidence that Firewise reduces suppression costs suggests that policy makers attempting to address rising suppression costs are better served focusing on other solutions, including increasing suppression funding and managing future development in high-risk areas.

The Firewise program is not designed to reduce the costs of fire suppression. Its goals are to reduce the deaths of residents, protect private property from fire, and enhance the safety of firefighters and the general population.

During the course of the study the researchers interviewed 16 Type 1 and 2 Incident Commanders. Some of them stated that the patchwork nature of the creation of defensible space and the use of fire resistant building materials at the parcel level within a Firewise Community made it difficult to modify fire suppression tactics and strategy based on an official community-wide designation .