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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
We have taken nine loads to the landfill so far.
I visited the landfill on the first FireFree day this year. Local news stations had been advertising this well-organized event.
Trucks and cars lined up to dump their loads.
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!