© 2024 KLCC

136 W 8th Ave
Eugene OR 97401

Contact Us

FCC Applications
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

We’re Living In A Fire Zone

The holiday Farm Fire that started Labor Day evening spread quickly, traveling 14 miles overnight and destroying most of the buildings in the community of Blue River. Now a Eugene-based ecology group has analyzed just how the fire spread.

Timothy Ingalsbee is Executive Director of Firefighters United for Safety Ethics and Ecology, or FUSEE. He told KLCC the weather and climate change are big factors in why the fire grew so fast.

“We have been suffering a long-term drought in our temperate rainforests, which is a red flag warning in itself.” Ingalsbee said. “Then we had high temperatures, and then these high winds, coming from the east that are dry.”

Ingalsbee said the winds came over the Cascades and accelerated down through the valleys. There was no way to keep the flames from advancing.

Credit FUSEE
Firefighters United for Safety Ethics and Ecology created a graphic of the Holiday Farm Fire's growth.

“We’ve kind of locked ourselves in this battle. Our response to fires is to fight fires.” Said Ingalsbee, “Well we’re really fighting nature. And we’re losing badly. So we need an entire new strategy, an entire new paradigm, for how we prepare for the fires that we can’t prevent, or can’t stop.”

Timothy Ingalsbee said these are climate fires and we have to adapt to the future in the fire zone.

“I think everyone in the state realized, even those beyond the reach of flames, we still got inundated by the smoke.” Ingalsbee said, “Basically, we’re all living in the fire zone today and that’s a definite climate signal.”

Ingalsbee said the fires were able to grow so big and so fast because of the way the wind pushed the flames in a hopscotch pattern. Folks in Blue River had no time to prepare, only time to flee. And firefighters were just trying to save lives, not engage the fire.

“It just takes one tiny burning ember landing on the forest floor or landing on someone’s rooftop to ignite a fire.” Ingalsbee said. “And what the first photographs coming out of the valley indicate is that in many cases the homes were more flammable than the surrounding forest.”

Ingalsbee says most of the forests within the Holiday Farm fire burn were logged-over lands planted with what he calls very flammable young conifers.

“Standing atop old logging slash and perhaps even dead brush that had been sprayed by herbicides, invasive weeds and grasses. It was just one solid mass of highly flammable fuel.” Ingalsbee said. “So when flames or embers entered these giant timber farms, they just swept very rapidly.”

Ingalsbee says we need to learn from these wildfires. And one lesson is to make our homes less vulnerable to fire.

“So, we need to build, or rebuild, or retrofit our homes so they don’t ignite from a tiny little ember.” Ingalsbee said. “Starting with the rooftops, make sure your roof is non-flammable, and that you maintain it, every year, pine needles are shed and thy collect on roofs and gutters and that’s just a perfect fuel bed for a fire to start”

Ingalsbee is concerned by the reaction of the White House and Congress who are pushing for more logging in reaction to the wildfires.  He said western states have already been logged over and that’s made them more vulnerable to wildfire. Ingalsbee said while addressing the effects of climate change and forest practices is going to take time and political will, we now have the knowledge, tools and technology to make our homes resilient to wildfires.

Copyright 2020 KLCC.

Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s host for All Things Considered on weekday afternoons. She also is the editor of the KLCC Extra, the daily digital newspaper. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000.
Related Content