Any instance of uncontrolled burning within a forested area, grassland, or brush is classified as a wildfire. Wasco County’s wildfire season usually runs from mid-May through October. However, any prolonged period of lack of precipitation presents a potentially dangerous problem. The probability of a wildfire in any one locality on a particular day depends on fuel conditions, topography, the time of year, the past and present weather conditions, and the activities (debris burning, land clearing, camping, etc.) which are or will be taking place. 70-90% of all fires locally are started by humans.

The effects of wildfires in Wasco County vary with intensity, area, and time of year. Factors affecting the degree of risk of wildfires include the extent of rainfall, humidity, wind speed, type of vegetation, slope, and proximity to fire-fighting agencies. The greatest short-term loss is the complete destruction of or damage to valuable resources, such as structures, timber, wildlife habitat, scenic vistas, and watersheds. There is also an immediate increase in vulnerability to flooding and landslides due to the damage to all or part of affected watersheds. Long-term effects include reduced amounts of timber for commercial purposes and the reduction of travel and recreational activities in the affected area.

Homebuilding in and near forests increases the risks of damage from wildfires. These areas are referred to as the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) which is, defined by the Ready, Set, Go fire education program as “areas where homes are built near or among lands prone to wildland fire”. Wildland fires can be referred to as brush fires, forest fires, or rangeland fires depending on the location. This document refers to them all inclusively as wildfire.

Often, structures have been built and maintained with minimal awareness of the need for protection from exterior fire sources, or the need to minimize interior fires from spreading to forested lands. Historically, it appears that the instance of wildfire is increasing in Wasco County and the region more generally. See the Significant Historic Hazard Tables in Volume II: Hazard Annexes. Additionally, the existence of open rangelands and large forested areas, increasing population and recreational activities, and the uncertain impact of a changing climate combine to increase the probability of a hazard event. The destruction of large tracts of forest land during these events have immediate economic impacts on the community through lost jobs and reduced taxes, while collateral economic and social effect can impact the County for years. Two Fire Management Assistance Declarations have occurred since the previous plan update in 2012. In 2018 there were only six of these declared for the state of Oregon, two of which were in Wasco County.

Wasco County was selected as one of eight communities nationwide to participate in the Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) program which works with communities to reduce wildfire risks through improved land use planning. The CPAW team visited the County three times and in December 2018 they presented their Final Recommendations to the County Board of Commissioners. These recommendations, and a 69-page report describing the state of wildfire in the County, as well as tips and implementation ideas for these recommendations moving forward, can be found on the Wasco County Planning website under Long Range – Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire Program. (BROKEN LINK)

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