Survey: Wildfire fears eased after spring rains soak Oregon
Significant rainfall this spring noticeably greened up the Oregon countryside and appears to have calmed nerves across the state, according to a survey about wildfire danger conducted in June by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center.
The survey, conducted from June 2-11, found that 60% of respondents felt wildfire was a threat to their local communities. In May 2021, that number was 68%.
The wildfire perception survey interviewed 1,446 Oregon residents 18 or older. The survey sought to gauge how concerned Oregon residents are heading into what officials have warned could be a dangerous wildfire season.
In mid-May, Gov. Kate Brown warned that this year's fire season could be extreme due to drought and climate change. But May and June were relatively cool and wet in the Pacific Northwest, lowering drought levels across the region.
Oregon's only remaining swath of exceptional drought — the highest level of drought according to the U.S. drought monitor — is in an area straddling Crook and Jefferson counties.
"Considering the extremely wet spring, it is not a major surprise that when asked about their area of Oregon, Oregonians' concern for wildfire has decreased a bit since May of last year," according to a statement from the polling group.
While the fear of fire danger in the short term has been slightly lowered, 88% of respondents expect wildfires to increase during the next 10 years. Nine out of 10 Oregonians (92%) see wildfires as a serious threat to "people living in Oregon."
However, not as many people believe they are in harm's way. Just six out of 10 respondents (60%) see wildfire as a very or somewhat serious threat in their communities. Five out of 10 people (53%) see wildfires as a direct threat to themselves and their families.
When asked about their greatest concerns over the impacts of fire, most Oregonians (83%) said they were worried about the health impacts of smoke. Loss of wildlife and fish habitat registered as the second-highest level of concern among Oregonians, with 82% saying they had great or moderate concern.
Nearly eight out of 10 (79%) respondents had moderate or great concern about the loss of public forestland.
"We already lost so many trees to logging, we should try to save as many as we can," said Mandee Seeley, a Deschutes County resident.
Another Deschutes County resident, Robin Johnson, said the best way to deal with fires is for fire officials to attack and extinguish them instead of letting forest fires burn naturally. "The fires can quickly get out of control, so they need to be managed," said Johnson. "In addition, the smoke impacts larger portions separate from the fire causing respiratory issues, and the fire may take out habitat."
Survey results show that 75% of Oregonians agree with Johnson. The remaining respondents lean toward or agree with, the idea of allowing a wildfire to burn out naturally.
A respondent from Polk County, who declined to be named, was blunter when it comes to managing wildfire. "We just can't let our state burn to the ground," she said.
Just how many Oregonians have had to evacuate due to wildfire? According to the survey, 19% of respondents said they have evacuated their homes due to wildfire. Some 43% of respondents said they have an evacuation plan in place.
The Oregon Values and Beliefs Center is an independent, nonpartisan organization. The center partnered with Pamplin Media Group and the EO Media Group, which owns The Bulletin. The survey has a margin of error of about 2.5%.
The Oregon Capital Bureau is a news partner of the Pamplin Media Group.
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