Community unites to protect land from fires

Chipping at Brice Creek - Firefighters have been chipping at the Brice Creek Fire, with views of the smoke from the lookout on Sept. 9. Smoke coming up from the timber are interior smokes where activity had a slight uptick due to the warming and drying weather conditions. (Photo by MS Murphy)

DORENA, Ore. - Last month, three large fires quickly erupted just east of the towns of Cottage Grove and Dorena, igniting the Brice Creek, Dinner, and Grizzly Fires, and filling the area with thick smoke for days: instilling dread in the hearts of many citizens.

Private and public land were at risk, as well as historic structures at Musick Guard Station and Fairview Lookout.

On August 30, Northwest Incident Management Team 12 assumed command. This interagency group composed of federal, state, and local organizations includes the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Interior, and several municipal departments of Oregon and Washington.

After the fire situations were assessed, resources were ordered for "Preparedness Level 5," the highest level of wildland fire activity. This allowed for further federal resources to be called to the scene.

Firefighters from all over the country, including Utah, California, and Arizona came to support the effort, totaling 586 personnel. The Dorena Grange offered its space as an Incident Command Center and a generous private landowner on Sharps Creek offered a hay field for the Fire Camp. Many other private citizens offered their support, including offering Wi-Fi internet connection.

Heather Appelhof and her team of Public Information Officers shared that the areas surrounding Cottage Grove and Dorena have not ever seen fires of this magnitude. A number of factors determined these fires to be a high risk to the wellbeing of the area.

In general, across the western U.S., wildfire season is lasting longer and becoming more extreme, starting earlier in the spring and into the fall. Fire activity is typically lasting 75 days longer than it was 40 years ago. Because of this, wildfire suppression costs are increasing. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, between 1983 and 1992, wildfires burned an average of 2.7 million acres per year. The current 10-year average for acres burned is about 6.8 million acres burned.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Northwest Incident Management Team 12, which was born out of the National Interagency Fire Center. The NIFC began in Boise, Idaho as the Boise Interagency Fire Center (BIFC) in 1965, after the USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Weather Service saw the need to work together to reduce the duplication of services, cut costs, and coordinate national fire planning and operations. This grew into what we know today as the National Interagency Fire Center to more accurately reflect its national mission.

When asked what average citizens could do to prevent and mitigate fire, Appelhof shared that people need to be “fire adaptive”—protecting their properties by creating “defensible space” and following tips for wildfire prevention. She also agreed that it would be helpful for the community of Dorena to have a fire district nearby, responding quickly to fires in the area, and be a part of a coordinated Incident Command System (ICS).


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