As wildfire season starts earlier and earlier, more residents are becoming aware of prevention strategies and learning about fire safety in the surrounding areas. Corvallis and Benton County are ramping up their planning, practices, and public safety messages.
When Benton County announced they would be setting burn bans when the wildfire season is announced, Benton County attorney Vance Croney said to the Benton County Board of Commissioners, “We have several areas within the county where fire districts miss. So we have these islands of rural pockets where there’s no fire district coverage. And those areas are really susceptible to wildfires because there’s no response units that would come into those areas.”
Where are these areas? To answer this important question, we connected with Bryan Lee, Benton County’s Emergency Preparedness Manager, and Dave Busby, Corvallis Fire Emergency Planning Manager, to clarify why some rural areas are not covered by public fire stations.
On this Oregon Fire Stations and Fire District map, the areas in blue are included in zones for fire stations. Lee made an important point that many areas are covered by Oregon’s Department of Forestry (ODF) either by themselves or by overlapping district coverage. Areas not marked in blue are often rural areas that have opted out of paying taxes for public fire department coverage, said Lee.
Busby explained that established areas – like Corvallis – have fire protection written into municipal codes and there is no opt-out option.
Local Areas of Concern
The largest area of concern not technically covered is called the “Greenberry Gap,” which Lee says is south of Corvallis, north of Finley Wildlife Refuge, and west of HWY 99. The farmers of this mostly agricultural area have decided to rely on their own fire fighting equipment and manpower in case of fire. The surrounding fire districts of Corvallis, Philomath, and Monroe can be called upon to come help, if needed. These fire stations will respond, but must also follow local laws to ensure their towns won’t be left unprotected.
Other smaller neighborhoods in rural areas are approached on a regular basis about joining the public system. Both Busby and Lee said that if 80% of property owners in a given area choose to not opt into fire coverage, then the county fire system will abide by the decision. These areas have to then set up fire fighting systems and wildfire evacuation plans.
Be Ready, Set, Go!
Coming into wildfire season, Busby and Lee are amping up their public education efforts. In mid-May there are 11 Corvallis communities signed up to participate in a wildfire evacuation drill. Busby has been working with leaders and Home Owner Associations on coordinating this effort.
However, even if you’re not involved in the evacuation drill, both say you should be ready in case there is a fire near you.
One source of information is Oregon’s Ready, Set, Go program, in which the state has set up a system to alert residents in areas at risk so they can prepare to evacuate if necessary. Ready stands for getting your home ready for fire season; Set stands for setting up a “go bag” with clothing and medicines your family needs to leave at a moment’s notice and pay attention to the local media for information; Go stands for “Go!” – you need to leave right now to save the lives of yourself and family.
More specific can be found on the Benton County Hazard: Wildfire site. The information covers topics like how to prepare your home and your “go bag” as well as how to create a plan if you’re notified of impending fires and what to do about your pets or farm animals.
Busby also emphasized that he wants residents to sign up for the Linn-Benton Emergency Alert System. This is how the fire department and emergency officials can quickly alert everyone in an area of their level in Be Ready, Be Set, Go!
As the Oregon Ready, Set, Go! website says, “Take personal responsibility and learn what you can do today. Firefighters train hard to prepare for wildfires. Residents need to do the same!”
By Stacey Newman Weldon
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