By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
How will people and the environment recover from wildfires that destroyed hundreds of Oregon homes and blackened more than half a million acres?
These difficult questions were discussed during a virtual forum with six experts from Oregon State University.
“We have to accept that these fires are going to impact our communities. It’s going to happen. Trying to stop a wildfire from happening is like trying to stop a hurricane,” Fischer, OSU Assistant Professor of Structural Engineering, said.
As containment of Oregon wildfires increases and evacuees are allowed to return, conversations shift to recovery.
Should homes be rebuilt as they were before? Does insurance cover all the costs?
“Something I’m learning now via my brother who is going through this; they are estimating clean-up costs per parcel to be $75,000 in the City of Talent. That’s cost prohibitive,” Chris Dunn, OSU College of Forestry Research Associate, said. “I think his insurance will cover $30,000 and so any costs above that really eats into their ability to rebuild”
Professor Erica Fischer spent two years studying how residents of Paradise are rebuilding after the Camp Fire leveled the California community.
“Every jurisdiction is going to have their level of safety and requirements that they want to impose,” Fischer said. “To actually file for a building permit, you have to clear 2 feet of topsoil from your site. You have to have the soil tested. You have to have the local utility come in and test the service lines on your property.”
Professor David Blunke researches how fire spreads when embers drift far ahead of an active fire. His parents were on a Level 2 evacuation notice.
“I went up to see if I could help, I mean I study this,” Blunke said. “And it was interesting to me what positive steps they were taking in case a fire got close to them but also what things they overlooked. My folks are very conscientious people, but they just haven’t thought about wildfire and I don’t blame them.”
Panelists wondered if more prescribed fires can be conducted to reduce fuel loads and lower the risk of wildfires to communities in the future.
“If we are going to do more prescribed burning, we’re going to need to rebuild that work force and make sure they are qualified to minimize that risk of escape,” John Bailey, OSU Professor of Forestry Management, said. “A big stumbling block has been smoke management issues.”
One possible unseen benefit: Professor Bailey says after 10 days of hazardous air quality in metropolitan areas, the public may be more receptive to controlled burns which generate far less smoke than out of control wildfires.