'A wildfire on private property can have severe financial consequences'

'A wildfire on private property can have severe financial consequences' »Play Video
Two wildfires that erupted Tuesday July 27, 2010 and spread quickly in Southern California have destroyed dozens of homes including this house about five miles above Highline Road in Tehachapi and forced evacuations in remote areas of the state's Kern County. More than 30 homes were lost in the small hill community of Old West Ranch and another 150 structures were threatened, firefighters said Tuesday. (AP photo/Sean Work - The Californian)

REDMOND, Ore. -  People who own forest property of any size, from a few acres to several hundreds, often don't know if their forest could survive a wildfire.

Have they reduced enough ladder fuels to keep a fire from spreading up into the tree crowns? Could firefighters easily get to a wildfire on their property?

Straight answers to difficult questions are in a new 41-page publication from Oregon State University Extension Service, "Reducing Fire Risk on Your Forest Property."

Although the actions suggested won't prevent a wildfire, they can make forested property much more fire resistant, said Stephen Fitzgerald, OSU Extension silviculture and wildland fire specialist. The degree of wildfire risk depends on both the probability of ignition from lightning or human activity, and the potential loss of life, trees or homes.

"If you follow the publication's guidelines, you can reduce a fire's severity,” Fitzgerald said. “Most trees will survive and firefighters can get to the blaze to extinguish it."

Recent studies have shown increasing levels of interest in such actions across the American West, as wildfire severity has increased and poses a growing threat in the urban/wildland interface.

Fire specialists and foresters from OSU, Washington State University and the University of Idaho produced the publication. It is available for free online or can be purchased for $12 plus shipping and handling by calling (800) 561-6719.

"A wildfire on private property can have severe financial consequences for owners, their family and neighbors," said Max Bennett, Extension Forester in southern Oregon, and the lead author of the publication. “It also can jeopardize the long-term health of the watershed and area ecology.”

Although the publication suggests how to make forested property more fire-resistant and improve forest health and wildlife habitat at the same time, it does not specifically address "defensible space" immedi-ately around a home, cabin or other structures.

For detailed information about creating and maintaining defensible space, see these OSU Extension publications available online:

As a real-world illustration of what's involved, the new publication highlights the story of the Epsteins, who purchased property in southwestern Oregon in 1987. Soon after, they learned their wildfire risk was high and parts of the property had burned in intense wildfires at least twice in the past century. Their case history illustrates what they did to reduce their risk of wildfire.