Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue hosts trainings, discussions ahead of wildfire season
As wildfires ravaged the West Coast in the late summer of 2020, Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue fought its own battle locally.
Flames decimated over 700 acres on Chehalem Mountain-Bald Peak, yet not a single home or life succumbed to the fire — a crucial feat chalked up to the dedication and in-depth training of the area's fire crews.
The historically destructive 2020 wildfire season spurred the state of Oregon and its communities to scrutinize and adapt their approach, TVF&R public affairs officer Stefan Myers said.
To help prepare firefighters for wildfires, TVF&R hosted a hands-on wildland fire training session in late May. With the first major heat wave of the season approaching this weekend, it's set to pay dividends.
"We were really happy with it," Myers said of the event. "We were able to get over 400 firefighters through it. Wilsonville, Forest Grove and some neighboring departments came and practiced with us."
The training site, provided through the Oregon Department of Forestry, was mountainous, littered with heavy timber and filled with multiple fuel sources —the type of environment attendees may well find themselves in come mid-summer, Myers said.
"(Our job is) to make sure all homes in that area are protected," Myers said. "And in that case, there are a lot of preventative (steps). We are removing fuels. It's not necessarily a wall of flames that's going to threaten the home in those areas; it's going to be embers that land in a gutter where somebody didn't clear out the dry leaves that were in there."
Firefighting efforts sometimes mean protecting a single home that firefighters know they can defend, or strategically pinpointing the best setup to protect multiple homes. Other times, it may mean discussing optimal use of key resources and how to efficiently utilize the water at their disposal.
Myers hopes that, through wildfire prevention and awareness resources such as Firewise, Ready, Set, Go! and a continued webinar series — the next of which will be held June 28, and can be registered for here through Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office — community members can take initiative as well.
Eliminating potential fuel sources in gutters, removing firewood stacks, cleaning underneath decks and trimming low-hanging branches on trees and plants are suggested precautionary measures.
As for landscaping and construction, Myers recommends using composites and metals, as opposed to woods and other more flammable materials. These steps are especially crucial for those in more rural areas.
Despite the wet spring, agencies at both the local and state levels will continue to monitor conditions moving forward.
"We are definitely looking for, 'what are the relative humidity levels?'" Myers said. "'What are the fuels in our area? How quickly are they drying out?' The northwest part of our state has seen a lot of saturation and is a much better place than it was a month and a half ago."
Even so, Myers concedes that eastern and central Oregon are prone to drying at accelerated rates.
Hundreds of Oregonians were displaced from their homes during the 2020 season. Ongoing training and conscious decision-making could reduce the likelihood of a repeat scenario.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.