The recent town hall that the city of Philomath hosted on wildfire preparedness had a lot of interesting information from the panelists on hand that evening. One of the comments that especially caught my attention was Rich Saalsaa’s comments about the Chip Ross fire that broke out in Corvallis back in September 2014 — yeah, it’s been nearly eight years since that happened.

Philomath Fire & Rescue Capt. Rich Saalsaa talks during last month’s town hall on wildfire preparedness. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

It was a particularly stressful day or two for our family because my teenage son was at home alone with the family dog while my wife and I were coincidentally both out of town (actually, I was really out of town covering an Oregon State football game in Hawaii). The house we were renting at the time was within an area that had been identified as a possibility for an evacuation order.  

People wonder if a wildfire could occur in Philomath and based on what officials said during the town hall, the answer is yes. The unknown part of that answer relates to severity.

Saalsaa, who is with Philomath Fire & Rescue, mentioned the Chip Ross fire during his town hall comments.

“That actually was the first time that people woke up to say, ‘hey, you could have a real problem here,’” Saalsaa, who is with Philomath Fire & Rescue, said during the town hall.

The fire at Chip Ross Park posed a threat to homes in the area and mandatory evacuation orders were issued for houses in the Timberhill neighborhood in the northwest section of the city. Several other residents in the area were advised to be prepared to evacuate, if necessary. The fire burned about 86 acres.

 “It was one of those situations where it was a red flag day, the Corvallis Fire Department was out on all sorts of different calls — they were really almost exhausted of their resources,” Saalsaa said. “In fact, Philomath Fire ended up being one of the first on scene.”

A point that Saalsaa was making was that one of the things that can be learned from fire experiences is what to do to prevent them from happening in the first place.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.