Reducing Our Risk

Organization: 
Project Wildfire

Entry Overview

Project Wildfire was formed in 2004 following a five-year effort to coordinate wildfire mitigation in Deschutes County.  The mission of Project Wildfire is to prevent deaths, injuries, property loss and environmental damage resulting from wildfires in Deschutes County. The partnerships and collective resources that reinforce Project Wildfire allow the program to be successful where an individual or one agency may not.  Project Wildfire works to change attitudes and behaviors and empower individual homeowners and communities to take a proactive approach to wildfire preparedness.

Project Wildfire aides in the development of wildfire evacuation routes, creation and maintenance of Firewise Communities, provides funding for fuels reduction projects in high priority communities, and plans and implements two annual county wide community cleanup events. Named FireFree, these events occur every year in the spring and fall and are a collaborative effort between fire districts, Deschutes County and the local community members.  FireFree involves ten simple steps a homeowner can complete in a weekend to create defensible space and be better prepared for wildfire. 

General Info
Alison
Green
Email : 
projectwildfire.pw@gmail.com
Organization Address: 

Bend, Oregon 97702
United States
Problem
Population Impacted: 
165,954
Hazard: 
Wildfire
Identify the likelihood and frequency of this hazard : 
Since 2000, central Oregon has lost 245,129 acres to wildfire. This is 195% more acres burned in the last 15 years than in the previous 100 years; and since 1983, 83 homes have been lost to wildfire. With its weather conditions, highly flammable vegetation and forests, Deschutes County is nationally recognized as a wildfire hazard zone. Each summer, at least one large wildfire impacts the Wildland Urban Interface area, prompting evacuation of residents.
Explain how vulnerable the community is to this hazard: 
Deschutes County is the most populated county east of the Cascades in Oregon and has many acres of Wildland Urban Interface. 166,400 residents live in the Deschutes County full time. In the seven Deschutes County Community Wildfire Protection Plans, 92,079 or 55% of residents live in communities that are at extreme risk for wildfire. In addition, some of these remote extreme risk areas do not have fire protection of any kind.
List the potential affects of this hazard: 
Fire is no stranger in Deschutes County but its impact is growing each year. Wildfire can quickly displace a high number of at risk residents in the event of an evacuation. If a major transportation route is closed the economic loss could exceed $3.5 million per day for central Oregon. Two recent fires have posed a health risk to local residents due to heavy smoke blanketing the area, Pole Creek (2012) & Two Bulls (2014).
Identify how sensitive the community is to these affects: 
Tourism is a major component of central Oregon’s economy. When a wildfire disrupts these small businesses (tours, bike shops, destination resorts, golf course, etc.) the economic impact can affect their revenue for multiple years. Also, Deschutes County is one of fastest growing counties in Oregon, which brings new residents every year. These new residents are frequently unaware of the fire hazard in the Wildland Urban Interface when they move to Deschutes County.
Action
Preparedness Goal: 
Project Wildfire’s consistent educational campaign has instilled the need for fuels treatment in the local residents.
Implementing Actions: 

Project Wildfire coordinates and revises 7 Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP) throughout Deschutes County.  These plans offer guidance to the federal agencies on where to plan fuel mitigation and residents who want to accomplish fuel reduction on their own property. The stakeholders in each CWPP boundary meet regularly to collaborate on projects and plans are revised on a regular 5-year cycle to maintain their relevance. 

Project Wildfire facilitated the creation of a program called “Plan, Prep, Go” in cooperation with the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and the Central Oregon Fire Chiefs Association.  Plan, Prep, Go is a local effort to prepare residents for wildfire along the lines of the national program Ready, Set, Go.  Plan, Prep, Go provides the information a homeowner needs to know to be prepared in case of evacuation due to wildfire.  Project Wildfire also assists communities in identifying and developing evacuation routes and provides signs and mapping to assist in awareness of those routes.

Project Wildfire plans and implements the FireFree days, which occur every year in the spring and the fall. FireFree’s spring event provides an opportunity for local residents to dispose of their yard debris and the fall event yard debris can be disposed of for half-price. On a ten-year average the FireFree days have collected 34,709 cubic yards of debris. The 2014 events collected a record breaking 40,423 cubic yards. Residents in Deschutes County have come to expect these FireFree events, as they are an easy and cost effective way for homeowners to create and maintain their defensible space, and many neighborhoods organize community wide cleanups around FireFree.  

Solution
Describe Your Solution: 

Project Wildfire is an educational program that empowers individual homeowners to take a proactive approach to wildfire preparedness. Project Wildfire aims to empower residents in each community throughout Deschutes County to instill the values of defensible space and preparedness in each neighborhood. Project Wildfire facilitates the grass root effort in each neighborhood to promote ownership and responsibility on the individual’s part.

There are frequent fires throughout Deschutes County and at least one fire creates a Wildland Urban Interface threat each year. Due to the preparedness by the local residents, there has not been a structure lost to wildfire in Deschutes County since 2003. There are numerous large-scale resorts and neighborhoods that located where a Wildland Urban Interface threat is imminent. This keeps the threat of wildfire prominent homeowners’ minds. There will always be a need for wildfire preparedness in Deschutes County. 

Results
Economic?: 

Due to the high level of acceptance of wildfire preparedness activities some residents of Deschutes County have effectively protected themselves from property damage. However, the threat of significant property damage and loss from wildfire is a prospective reality for many residents. Fire season and the height of Deschutes County’s tourist season coincide each summer. With the growing impact of wildfire on local small businesses that depend on tourism for their livelihood, the need and benefit of reducing the consequences of wildfire are paramount.

Environmental?: 

High intensity wildfire in ecosystems not adapted to it creates a host of environmental impacts such as long term vegetation modification and heavy smoke impacts. There have been over 110,000 acres treated within and around communities by Project Wildfire alone. Complimentary Federal Land projects more than double this figure. Through fuel reduction and restoration on all lands wildfire can be used as a tool for land management in the future. 

Social?: 

Each neighborhood Project Wildfire collaborates with provides an opportunity to change resident’s attitude regarding wildfire. Residents can change the probability of their home surviving a wildfire. Project Wildfire provides education and financial assistance to empower homeowners to improve their odds of preventing property loss and damage due to high intensity wildfire.

What were the negative or unintended impacts (if any) associated with implementing this solution? : 

There are no negative or unintended impacts that occurred as a result of Project Wildfire’s activities.

Replication/Scale
Return on Investment: How much did it cost to implement these activities? How do your results above compare to this investment?: 

The cost benefit of Project Wildfire’s educational campaigns is approximately $ 0.50 per person, based on the population figure in only Deschutes County during the summer months (conservatively at 200,000). Project Wildfire recognizes that its educational campaign in reality spans into several other counties, increasing its reach by another 110,000 in population and benefitting other counties' populations as well. The cost benefit for changing attitudes of local residents cannot be measured. However, Project Wildfire does monitor participation in the FireFree events and creation of new Firewise Communities to measure its educational reach. FireFree has increased its reach and impact each year it is implemented showing the teachable moments highlighted by Project Wildfire has not fallen on deaf ears. The overall goals are to increase awareness, increase the probability of homes surviving wildfire and ultimately decrease the size of large wildfires in the WUI. This will in turn, decrease loss to property, loss of life, loss of income for small business owners and acres lost to severe wildfire. Instead, local personnel can intensify their efforts in prevention and fuel reduction that will ultimately teach residents how to live with wildfire and create a more fire adapted community.  

What are the main factors needed to successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?: 

Project Wildfire is a member of The Centers for Disease Control Whole Community Network and the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, which are groups of programs similar to Project Wildfire, who are concerned with emergency preparedness and wildfire mitigation. Project Wildfire developed a toolkit for any communities who would like to replicate or develop a program similar in their local area. Any area that faces a threat of damaging Wildland Urban Interface wildfires could replicate Project Wildfire’s program in their community.

Contest Info
Contest Name: 
Reducing Our Risk

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