Expert warns of massive fire potential

The Tillamook Burn was a series of fires spanning 1933 to 1951 that destroyed 752,000 acres of coast forests. (State of Oregon photo archives)

LINCOLN CITY — With continued dry conditions predicted to continue in Oregon and much of the West in 2019, emergency experts are warning residents to gird themselves against California-style wildfires.

“Things like that have happened here, before,” advised Captain Jim Kusz of North Lincoln Fire and Rescue, dubbed the “Master of Disaster” by graduates of his popular emergency-preparation classes.

Kusz referred to a series of fires spanning 1933 to 1951 known as the Tillamook Burn that destroyed 752,000 acres of coast forests. In 2016, a fire erupted east of Depoe Bay that rattled old-timers who recalled how the town was early wiped out by a forest fire in the 1930s. In 2018, firefighters in Oregon battled 14 major fires that consumed 654,000 of wildlands.

“No matter how you view climate change, things have changed radically since the 1980s,” Kusz said. “We have longer seasons and places that once appeared immune are now considered high risk.”

Kusz observed that much of the county’s population resides next to heavily-wooded forests that were similar to those involved in the Camp Fire in California, witnessed by firefighters from Lincoln County who were among 290 sent from Oregon to help quell the fire that left 200 dead and scores missing.

“The fire scene looked slightly different but the trees were very much like our forests here,” he said. “You have a lot of overgrowth ladder fuels, and the only thing people can do is prepare their homes for a wildland fire.”

Kusz has outlined some of those steps homeowners can take in a free, 42-page manual that he helped author. Available at city halls and fire stations throughout Lincoln County, the SET (Severe Event Training) manual offers 10 ways to fireproof a home, plus points to ponder on whether to “fight or flee.”

Strategies include fire-resistant roofing, cleaning gutters, trimming trees to a 10-foot distance, constructing fire breaks and other valuable tips.

“You can look at a neighborhood and pick the winners and losers,” concluded Kusz. “The book contains ideas that you can implement now, before the next fire season is on us.”

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