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Voice of the Chieftain: Has everything been done to prevent wildfires in Wallowa County?

Published on July 5, 2017 4:01PM

Editorial voice of the Chieftain

Editorial voice of the Chieftain

Watching televised reports of dozens of wildfires burning across the west most likely meant some uneasy moments for many Wallowa County residents.

Twenty-seven large fires were burning nearly 180,000 acres late last week, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. And the season has just begun.

Fortunately the county has had only a handful of very small fires thus far, mostly caused by lightening strikes.

It’s difficult to fathom that all of the snow, rain, ice and sleet of the past winter is being erased by a spate of warm and windy days.

A plethora of resources standing waiting should the need arise and most homeowners in fire-prone areas have acted on the advice of fire preparedness experts.

Keep vegetation near homes green and trimmed. Trees should be no closer than 20 feet apart. Gutters should be cleared. Most of all stay alert.

Readers who were around in 2014 will no doubt remember The Somers Fire, located in the Hells Canyon Wilderness Area, which grew to more than 12,000 acres. At roughly the same time, the 5 Mile Fire was charring approximately 5,000 acres

Firefighters worked tenaciously to keep the town of Imnaha private lands, ranches and homes along Imnaha River Road safe.

Inevitably large fires leave everyone asking the same question: Was it preventable?

Some are and some aren’t.

At least one Oregon ranch believes closing open range areas on federal land to cattle may encourage wildfires. Cahill Ranches of Adel, Ore., near where the California, Nevada and Oregon borders come together, has put his money where his mouth is and filed a suit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The move was ostensibly made so a vegetation study could be done on 8,000 acres. The plaintiffs allege the action by BLM will cause rapidly spreading wildfires and juniper encroachment.

Clearly, effective land use policies are the No. 1 option for containing wildfires. Fighting them with retardants and men with axes to the tune of millions of dollars in cost doesn’t even make the top 10.

Around $1.9 billion was spent last year nationwide battling these blazes. That’s slightly less than the record $2.1 billion spent in 2015, according to the Fire Center.

We trust that decisions made in our region of the state take all of the possibilities into account when it comes to preventing wildfires.

Meanwhile, we’ll remain vigilant throughout the remainder of the summer and beyond.


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