Colorado Springs in Oregon? 'Not a matter of if, it's a matter of when'

Colorado Springs in Oregon? 'Not a matter of if, it's a matter of when'

PLEASANT HILL, Ore. - Wildfires wiped out whole neighborhoods in Colorado. Could it happen here in the Pacific Northwest?

"It's not a matter of if.  It's just a matter of when we're going to lose structures, even here in the Eugene-Springfield area," said Kevin Crowell, fire plan coordinator for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

State fire officials said the fires in Colorado can serve as a summertime wake up call for folks in places where urban areas meet the forest.

That's where state forestry's Fuels Reduction Program comes in. Crews work to create space between tree branches and the ground and between brush and homes.

Less fuel means less risk of fire - and "defensible space" gives firefighters a fighting chance of saving your home from a catastrophic wildfire.

At a home near Pleasant Hil this week, crews cleared blackberries and trimmed branches.

"Now they have a chance where it's going to be a low intensity fire, gradually moving uphill like fire normally does," Crowell said.

State foresters said at the bare minimum, you need 30 feet of defensible space around a home.

"That's where we're trying to reduce the amount of fuels up close to the house, where if a fire were to encroach on that zone, the fire will slow down," Crowell said.

Other tips: move the wood pile, clean the roof and gutters - and choose fire-resitant landscaping.

"Oregon grapes are a very fire resistant plant," Crowell said.

Ferns, azaleas and rhododendrons are also on the fire resistant list.

"Now it not only protects them," said Mark Brink, running equipment removing vegetation from the property, "it protects about five different neighbors, so it's a bang for everybody. 

It's a lot of work for homeowners, but Crowell said it's essential if your home is to survive a forest fire.

"Who wants that one house that got lost in the fire to be yours?" he said.

Crowell stresses the program is voluntary and has federal grant money available to defray much of the cost of the crew and debris removal.