We’re no strangers to wildfires in Central Oregon with our summer and fall months filled with smoky air. This summer and fall have continued to bring concern into Central Oregon. With climate change increasing the frequency and severity of natural disasters like wildfires, people around the world have suffered. Places such as Canada and Greece have both suffered along with the tragic Lahaina fire in Maui, Hawaii. You may have seen the photo of a single house that stood within the wreckage of the fire in Lahaina and Central Oregon having constant fire risks, we should ask how that one house remained.
What is the impact of wildfires?
Wildfires are disruptive to ecosystems, destroy habitats, and release vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The loss of vegetation and soil erosion can lead to increased flooding and reduced water quality, further affecting wildlife and plant populations, and making recovery a lengthy process.
The Copernicus Programme, part of the European Commission finds that Greece has experienced the highest wildfire emissions for July in the last two decades with an estimate of 1 megaton of carbon emissions between July 1st and July 25th.
They also found that Canada’s wildfire emissions were about 290 megatons in 2023 as of the time of the article (August 3, 2023) with a previous record of 138 megatons in 2014).
Not only is climate change increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires, but it continues to release more emissions in the process.
How has climate change impacted wildfires?
Increasing temperatures and altering precipitation patterns caused by climate change have led to more wildfires, with dry conditions, prolonged droughts, and reduced snowpack creating ideal fuel for fires. Additionally, climate change lengthens the fire season, leading to more frequent and severe wildfires, threatening ecosystems, communities, and exacerbating the cycle of global warming through increased carbon emissions.
Lahaina fire fuel
The Lahaina fire was responsible for at least 97 deaths and 31 missing people. What caused the fire to become so catastrophic? Non-native grasses and shrubs are one of the causes that people point to, with nearly 25% of Hawaii’s surface area covered by them. These grasses dry out, decompose slower, and are drought-tolerant, creating fire fuel. This has been a problem for a long time but has only been exacerbated by climate change.
How did one house survive?
One house with a red roof stood amongst the rubble and devastation of the surrounding burned area. The changes the owners made to this nearly 100-year-old house were not intentional to fireproof it, but they were lucky they did. The commercial-grade corrugated metal roof and the stone around the house were large contributing factors to the house’s survival. These fire-proofing methods removed flammable materials from the house and created a barrier between the house and fire fuel such as grass and brush.
Firewise has resources to help you fireproof your house; read some of the suggestions below and make sure to check their website for more information!
This zone is 0-5 feet from the exterior point of the home.
- Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves and debris
- Replace loose or missing shingles to prevent embers from entering
- Install ⅛ inch metal mesh screening to vents and eaves to prevent embers from entering
- Move flammable materials away from all exteriors such as mulch, flammable plants, leaves, and needles
This zone is 5-30 feet from the exterior point of the home.
- Clear vegetation from propane tanks
- Create fuel breaks with driveways, walkways, patios, and decks
- Keep lawns and native grasses mowed to 4 inches
- Remove ladder fuels (vegetation under trees) so the surface fire cannot reach the crowns
- Space trees to have at least 18 feet between crowns with increasing distance based on the slope
- Trees and shrubs should be planned so the canopy is no closer than 10 feet to the edge of the structure
This zone is 30-100 feet, out to 200 feet.
- Dispose of ground litter and debris
- Remove dead plants and trees
- Remove small conifers growing between mature trees
- Remove vegetation adjacent to storage sheds or other outbuildings
- Trees 30-60 feet from the house should have at least 12 feet between canopy tops
- Trees 60-100 feet the house should have at least 6 feet between canopy tops
Develop an Emergency Plan
Prepare for the worst-case scenario by creating a detailed fire emergency plan. This should include escape routes, meeting points, pet supplies, and a designated person responsible for gathering important documents and emergency supplies.
Climate change will only continue to exacerbate the frequency and intensity of wildfires and other natural disasters. Being prepared and knowledgeable about how to protect your house, belongings, pets, friends, and family is important in times of emergency. Your actions can help protect people around you as fire season continues to extend.