During General Session 2; Oregon on fire the summer of 2015, at the IAFC Wildland Urban Interface conference in Reno this week, presenters Jim Pena and Doug Grafe spoke about the enormity of recent fires in Oregon recently and the fact that there seems to be a new trend towards larger and more complex fires. They talked about how a community that was Firewise (the Pine Creek Firewise Community in Grant County) had done mitigation work that helped them survive the Canyon Creek Complex wildfire. According to an Inciweb report, Pine Creek came through the fire with no loss of any structures, while other communities that had not done the work had not fared as well. In fact, during the Canyon Creek Complex, 43 homes were destroyed and at least 50 more were damaged. Pine Creek became a recognized Firewise Community in 2014, one year before the wildfire that impacted this area in Oregon.
The Inciweb report shares a harrowing but very happy story that I could not write any better:
“In the fire’s path sat the small, dispersed community of Pine Creek. The Grant County Sheriff’s Office made the call in the early afternoon to evacuate residents. As flames moved swiftly down the slopes, firefighters strategically maneuvered around the fire’s advances, skillfully knowing when to retreat to safer positions. The fate of homes and property were obscured by smoke and terrain.
Barely two years earlier, residents of the Pine Creek community came together to write a Firewise plan, and began making their homes and property more resilient from wildfire’s impacts. Firewise, a project of the National Fire Protection Association, is a collaborative community program that encourages local solutions to fire protection by involving homeowners and stressing individual responsibility for preparing their homes from the risk of wildfire. It is co-sponsored by the USDA Forest Service, the US Department of the Interior, and the National Association of State Foresters.
The Pine Creek community’s attitude wasn’t 'if,' it was 'when' fire would burn through their property. Resident Howard Gieger led the way with many other community members preparing and implementing the Firewise plan. Together, they learned fire behavior, fire-proofing techniques, and evacuation tips. Learning the different evacuation levels helped them prepare to evacuate, not just themselves but also pets and livestock.
The Pine Creek community held meetings, potlucks, and work parties, helping each other with ideas, motivation and physically improving their properties. These community members did most of the work themselves and helped their neighbors, pruning, mowing, thinning trees and improving access routes by clearing away dense vegetation. They built a bridge to provide an emergency ATV route across a creek, located water sources and set up sprinklers where it made sense.
After the fire passed through and the smoke subsided, all of the Firewise participants’ homes survived. Howard built his home in 1978 and it is all that he and his wife have. Upon the Giegers’ return, Howard said they were so thankful for what they found. The fire burned through their property and all around their home, but the home itself was unaffected. Howard was happy to help out
by taking care of his part. Firefighters said Howard and his neighbors should pat themselves on the back for all the preparations they did.”
Mr. Gieger and the neighbors in Pine Creek created a much more resilient community that survived the wildfire event that occurred last fall in Oregon. The work they did together allowed them to return to their homes after the fire passed through. Neighbors and communities can work together and make a difference. The efforts they made can be emulated by others. According to Pine Creek's 2014 Firewise Day report, one project they completed was to help a resident who was unable to do the work because of health issues.By working together to help this neighbor, they helped themselves be safer as a whole. Find out how your community can be Firewise and more resilient in the event of a wildfire.