Do You Need Defensible Space?

Many coast residents thought it could never happen here.

Driven by rare warm winds from the east, several devastating fires leveled homes in Western Oregon the week of Labor Day, clogging the air with smoke lasting for days. The Echo Mountain Complex Fires near Lincoln City leveled or damaged nearly 300 homes and buildings less than five miles from the Pacific Ocean, tallying losses of approximately $20 million in structures alone.

Many assumed the 70+ inches of rain we receive a year and our cool ocean air would keep us safe from wildfires. The Echo Mountain Complex, and the much smaller Sweet Creek Milepost 2 fire near Mapleton the week before, prove that isn’t true.

Central Lincoln has been planning for wildfires in our District for some time. We’ve been working to update our wildfire mitigation plan, coordinating with other electric PUDs in Oregon. Although we have had two full-time year-round tree crews working to clear branches and trees from our lines, this year we’ve permanently added two more crews of three people each. (In the past, we’ve used outside companies to help our crews, but found it will save money to have that work done by employees instead.) With more than 1,300 miles of line serving an area heavily forested by fast-growing trees, all four crews will stay busy cutting and trimming around our lines year-round.

Now that we know fires do threaten homes here on the coast, what can customers do to protect their homes? Oregon State University’s Extension Service offers a free guide, “Keeping Your Home and Property Safe from Wildfire: A Defensible Space & Fuel Reduction Guide for Homeowners & Landowners.”

Key points? “To help your home survive a wildfire, create defensible space between your home and its surroundings by 100 feet or more.” In the first zone, 30’ from a home, the buffer should be “lean, clean, and green.”

“How you landscape and maintain the vegetation in these [three] zones will have a big influence on the survival of your home in a wildfire,” the guide’s authors write.

“Studies show a fast-moving wildfire can destroy a home in only ten minutes,” says our Safety Coordinator Cody Christian. “So please take an active role in protecting your home and community from wildfire, and reduce the threat to lives and property.”

LEAN: Prune shrubs and cut back tree branches, especially within 15 feet of your chimney.

CLEAN: Remove all dead plant material from around your home; this includes dead leaves, dry vegetation and even stacked firewood.

GREEN: Plant fire-resistant vegetation that is healthy and green throughout the year. Keep landscaping, including mulch, well watered to prevent it from becoming fuel for fires.