Fighting future fires for free

Here in Central Oregon, homeowners can take steps towards fighting future fires for free. In the spring, you can dispose of yard waste for no charge. In Bend this year, the free disposal runs from April 30 through May 15. Here’s a link showing dates at all locations. The landfill also takes yard waste for half price in early November.

fighting fires for free
Piles of yard waste

You may wonder why the local landfill is taking yard waste without charging the usual amount. Central Oregon is in the exceptional drought category, according to U.S. Drought Monitor.

Prineville Reservoir

We have received some welcome precipitation over the last few weeks, but local reservoirs are at historically low levels. Here are photos of Prineville Reservoir, 30 minutes east of my home in Bend. Can you see the horizontal lines along the shore showing previous water levels? The reservoir level is at 31% capacity. Crescent Lake, another local reservoir, is only 11% full.

Look how far the boat ramp is from the shore!

We have a range of habitats in this area. At my house, western junipers grow between sagebrush and bunchgrass. Our annual precipitation is 10 inches or less. On the west side of Bend, ponderosa pines tower over the landscape. The elevation increases and more precipitation falls as snow. Wildfires can affect both environments.

Fighting fire with fire

Wildfires have increased in size and severity. During the 2020 Oregon wildfire season, more than a million acres burned. We use prescribed burns to burn the undergrowth prior to the fire season.

Prescribed burn
Prescribed burn at High Desert Museum

How Central Oregon is fighting future fires for free

After a couple of devastating fires near Bend in the 1990s, a local fire marshal thought about what could be done to prevent future Central Oregon fires. An insurance company considered donating a new fire engine, but the marshal had a better idea. The FireFree group created guidelines to educate homeowners on how they could protect their property from wildfire. They recommended creating 30-100 feet of defensible space around houses. Recommendations included trimming or eliminating brush and trees near structures.

Fighting fire for free

FireFree came up with a plan to help homeowners fight future fires for free. They picked up yard waste at individual homes at no charge. The program switched to using landfill space a couple of years later. FireFree notes on their website, “The total amount of yard debris collected during FireFree events since 1999 is 444,605 cubic yards. This is enough yard debris to fill almost 44,500 dump trucks.”

Our contributions

We collected groundcover weeds and tumbleweeds (three kinds) from our 2.25-acre property this spring. The giant tumbleweed, with me standing behind it, was 7 feet 6 inches across.

This year, we trimmed low-growing western juniper branches to prevent fire from reaching the tree canopies. Juniper trees often split as they age, and we cut down a large splitter growing too close to our house.

Western juniper branches
6′ x 15′ pile of western juniper branches

We have taken nine loads to the landfill so far.

fighting fires for free
Trailer full of yard waste

I visited the landfill on the first FireFree day this year. Local news stations had been advertising this well-organized event.

Fighting fire for free
Sign for FireFree yard waste disposal

Trucks and cars lined up to dump their loads.

Yard waste
Vehicles dumping yard waste

The city often recycles yard waste into compost which you can purchase at the landfill.

FireFree is a great program other fire-prone communities should consider!

Yard waste at landfill
More vehicles dumping yard waste

Pinecones in black and white: Monochrome Monday

Pinecones in black and white

A collection of pinecones shown in black and white. These cones were found in the Lost Forest of Central Oregon, a remnant from another time.

Monochrome Monday

Recognizing a place in Placed: High Desert writings

I’m pleased to announce that one of my short stories was recently published in Placed: An Encyclopedia of Central Oregon, Vol. 1. This slim volume, however, is not an encyclopedia in the traditional sense of the word. It contains a collection of poetry and prose about this part of the planet. Central Oregon includes sagebrush deserts, thick pine forests, winding rivers, and volcanoes lining the horizon. Placed embraces tales of the wild, but also stories related to unique features – like Ocean Rolls from a local bakery.

Placed: An Encyclopedia of Central Oregon

My contribution is The Toad Queen, written after encountering a Great Basin spadefoot toad in my yard. It is one of the most unique things I’ve observed in Oregon – unlike anything I have ever seen. I snapped a couple pictures of it and gently pushed it off the trail. This creature with such an odd appearance and life history deserves a special story.

Unique sights Great Basin Spadefoot Toad 4May2018
Great Basin Spadefoot Toad
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