Letter: Building West of Bend Increases Likelihood of a Major Fire

Dear County Commissioners. 
 
It's been known for a long time that the way to protect homes is not by logging the forest--indeed, under extreme fire weather there is no evidence that fuel reductions work.  I can provide numerous review papers that come to that conclusion.
 
So despite all the work the FS is doing west of Bend, if the right conditions for a major fire occur--particularly with wind, Bend is vulnerable. 
 
Fire ignitions are "local" events--i.e. they occur in the immediate vicinity of homes due to wind blown fire brands.  It does not require a wall of flames to burn homes. More than half of the homes burned in fires are the result of "surface" fires. I.e. a burning brand from a wildfire a mile or two distance, lands on some pine needles and a fire no more than 1-2 foot high flames ignites something near a home and the home burns down. 
 
How likely is that to occur in the western side of Bend? Almost for certain. 
 
The problem with additional building on the west side of Bend such as the proposed Tree Farm is that it merely increases the likelihood of a major fire that could threaten the entire city. It only takes one home that fails to do proper fuel reductions to create a threat. That is because structure fires burn way hotter than a forest fire and produce many more burnable fire brands. 
 
These homes will be there for the next hundred years or more (until they burn up in a major fire). So you have to think in terms of a hundred to two hundred year time frame. What is the likelihood of a major fire west of  Bend in the next hundred years? Well almost a certainty. What are the chances that someone will fail to do proper home flammability reductions. Almost for certain. 
 
Even if there are fire reduction codes, who will enforce these codes? A wooden wall is not that flammable--it takes a long time for it to ignite, however, if there is anything near the house that can burn, this can cause ignition.  
 
Who will ensure that no homeowner has a propane tank for their barbecue on the back deck or fire wood stacked against the house, or pine needles accumulated on the roof gutter, or that screens are on all roof vents to prevent burning embers from entering the attic, or that there are not wooden chairs leaning against the house, etc.
 
Bend already has a major problem with too many homes in the fire ignition zone. Adding more homes in this part of town will only increase the likelihood of a major disaster occurring in our community. 
 
George Wuerthner
 
George is the author of 35 books about national parks, wilderness areas, mountain ranges, and conservation and wildlife issues, including wildfire.