Philomath Fire & Rescue Deputy Fire Chief Rich Saalsaa leads a "home hardening" discussion as part of information provided on assessing a home's fire risk. (Photo provided by Philomath Fire & Rescue)

Neighborhood leaders from around Benton County gathered last weekend in Wren to learn how to best protect their communities from wildland fires.

Staged over three hours on the morning of Saturday, May 20, at Wren Community Hall, the Fire Resilient Neighborhood Leaders Workshop represented the latest effort by local and regional officials to discuss options for creating resiliency from wildfires.

Participants in the workshop learn about defensible space. (Photo provided by Philomath Fire & Rescue)

“One of the goals for the workshop was to increase understanding among neighborhood leaders about local wildfire ecology, risks and strategies for assessing and reducing risk in the ‘home ignition zone,’” Philomath Fire & Rescue Deputy Fire Chief Rich Saalsaa, who was among the workshop presenters, said in reference to the 100 to 200 feet surrounding a house. “In addition, the workshop was designed to support neighborhood leaders to feel confident and competent assessing their homes and properties for wildfire risk using a self-assessment tool and helping their neighbors understand the vulnerabilities and opportunities to reduce risk on their properties.”

This workshop was expanded from a town hall meeting held last year at Philomath High School.

“Lastly, the final goal was to strengthen relationships between Benton County fire resilience professionals and community leaders to encourage future partnerships and coordination,” Saalsaa added.

Kayla Bordelon, regional fire specialist and assistant professor of practice, and Carrie Berger, fire program manager — both with Oregon State University’s Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Fire Program — created the event to connect Benton County communities with wildland fire experts.

Bryan Lee, Benton County emergency manager, talks about grant funding that supports community efforts in wildlife risk reduction. (Photo provided by Philomath Fire & Rescue)

The workshop covered fire ecology and risk, firewise landscaping and various areas of home fire risk assessment, such as access, structure, defensive space, topography, utilities and fire protection.

Firewise community leaders, CERT (Community Emergency Management Team) volunteers and other neighborhood representatives were among those in attendance.

Bryan Lee, Benton County Emergency Manager, presented news about grant funding supporting community efforts in wildfire risk reduction. Benton County Commissioner Pat Malone and Inga Williams, associate planner from the Benton County Community Development Department, were also in attendance.

Paula Lupcho of the Benton County Master Gardeners Association, talks about firewise landscaping. (Photo provided by Philomath Fire & Rescue)

There are plans for future workshops to bring information to community leaders and residents on topics such as evacuation planning, sheltering in place and other resiliency planning, Saalsaa said.

For more information regarding home fire risk assessment, contact local fire departments, Firewise community leaders, the Oregon Department of Forestry or the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office.

In addition, the OSU Extension Fire Program has a selection of recorded webinars including caring for a home ignition zone, evacuation, getting ready for wildfire smoke and more. The Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office also has webinars available during Wildfire Month.

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