Photo: Land Trust.

How You Can Help Prevent Wildfires

Jun 10, 2024 by Jana Hemphill
Did you know a large number of wildfires in Oregon are caused by humans? Help be part of the solution by knowing what you can do to prevent wildfires!

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June has arrived, which means it's officially time to start thinking about wildfire season. We're not talking about when we think our skies will become smoky, but taking a look at the difference you can make to help prevent wildfires. Did you know a large number of wildfires in Oregon are caused by humans? Help be part of the solution—be prepared and know what you can do to prevent wildfires.

Dry grasses like these can ignite under your hot parked car. Photo: Land Trust.
Dry grasses like these can ignite under your hot parked car. Photo: Land Trust.
Cars and Dry Vegetation. This was a new one for me—did you know that cars and their engines/undercarriage get hot enough during the summer to start a fire?!? One of the ways this happens is when you park your car on dry plants during Central Oregon’s hot summers. The heat on the underside of your car can actually ignite those dry plants below. You also risk the chance of starting a wildfire when you drive on unmaintained dirt roads. The plants in the middle of the road can catch on your car’s underside and then quickly light on fire. Avoid starting an unintentional fire by parking in designated spots that do not have plants underneath, whether you’re out for a hike, around town, or at a friend’s house.

Campfires. We’ve all seen the signs: We Want Your Campfire DEAD OUT! But what does this actually mean? It means there shouldn’t be any heat coming from your campfire when you leave. Be the person that makes sure your group's campfire is out before heading to your tent or trailer for the night. Here’s how to make sure your fire is out:

  • Slowly add water to your campfire.
  • Stir, scrape, and separate the coals and ash to spread the heat out.
  • Add more water to your campfire until it stops steaming.
  • Feel for any residual heat by using the back of your hand held above the coals and ash (taking care not to touch the fire!). Make sure you check the edges of your fire and along the fire ring.
  • If you still detect a little bit of heat, continue to add more water and stir the coals until you no longer feel any heat.

Bonfires. Bonfires can be a lot of fun and are a summer tradition of summer for some. While you're enjoying yourself, please remember—the bigger the fire, the greater chance of it getting out of control. It’s also easy for an unexpected breeze to sweep by and take some fire embers with it, catching nearby grasses on fire. Just remember, the smaller, the better.

Always check weather conditions before burning your debris! Photo: Land Trust.
Always check weather conditions before burning your debris! Photo: Land Trust.
Debris Burning. You should not burn your debris during wildfire season. It’s a good idea to plan your debris burning in the late fall and winter, but you should always check weather conditions, regardless of the time of year. Things like wind, temperature, and humidity all affect a fire’s ability to spread. Keep your debris burn pile small, then feed it from a larger pile of materials. Of course, make sure the fire is completely out before you leave it. In addition, contact your local fire district before burning to make sure debris burning is allowed.

Fireworks. While fireworks go hand-in-hand with summer for many, they can also be incredibly dangerous, especially when it comes to wildfires. Many of us remember when Pilot Butte caught fire right in the middle of Bend—the fire was directly caused by fireworks being set off by a group of friends. Please be very cautious if you decide to have fireworks and make sure you know which fireworks are legal in Oregon and how to set them off. And remember, fireworks are illegal on all public lands in Central Oregon, including national forests, wilderness areas, campgrounds, and state parks. They are also illegal in the cities of Bend, Sisters, and Sunriver, and cities or counties may put temporary bans in place as wildfire season begins.

Defensible Space. When a wildfire does start, you’ll want to make sure you have defensible space around your home (especially if you live close to the forest). There are a lot of ways you can create a defensible space. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Trim branches that overhang your house, deck, garage, and sheds
  • Prune the lower branches of large trees
  • Create small fuel breaks with hardscaping features in your yard
  • Landscape with non-combustible mulches like crushed stone and gravel
  • Use landscaping plants that are fire-resistant (not to be confused with fire proof)
  • Screen your roof and attic vents to prevent embers from flying into your home
  • Store firewood at least 30 feet away from your home
  • Make sure you have Class A fire-rated roofing products

Remember, we can all do our part to make sure we have less wildfires!

Oregon Department of Forestry
Deschutes National Forest
Oregon State University Extension

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