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Despite COVID-19, wildfire season is still coming

The novel coronavirus has upended our daily lives.

To slow the outbreak, you have been encouraged to frequently wash your hands, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and physically distance yourself from others.

The less we interact with each other, the fewer opportunities the virus will have to spread. Every interaction you avoid counts as a victory bringing us a step closer to the end of this outbreak.

In Ashland, it is easy to see that you are heeding the advice of health officials. Restaurants are closed (fortunately many offer delivery and carryout), school is canceled, and the bustling storefronts of downtown are quiet.

In many ways, this feels like a whole new reality. But do not be fooled. Despite your changed routine, there is one fact that will not be changing — wildfire season is still coming.

Receiving below-average snowpack this winter, Ashland’s surrounding landscape will be dry this summer. In the face of a warming climate, wildfire season is growing longer, and Ashland must continue to proactively reduce wildfire risk.

This winter, Ashland Forest Resiliency was successful in burning hundreds of acres near town to eliminate flammable vegetation that would otherwise fuel the flames in a wildfire. Every acre burned reduces wildfire risk to our homes, our open space and our watershed.

Now it’s your turn to join the fight against wildfire in Ashland. The social distancing that is being advised to curb the spread of COVID-19 creates a unique opportunity for you and your family to do more this spring to reduce your wildfire risk. While you are more homebound than usual over the next several weeks, Ashland Fire & Rescue encourages you to take this time to do the following:

  • Create a fuel-free zone within 5 feet of all structures with no combustible materials, including bark mulch.
  • Keep grass cut no higher than 4 inches by June 15, and keep it short.
  • Clean your roof and gutters of leaves and needles. This prevents embers from igniting your home. If you are uncomfortable on a ladder, please hire someone.
  • Remove flammable plants within 30 feet of your home. Flammable plants (that are prohibited to plant in Ashland) are listed at ashland.or.us/prohibitedplants
  • Remove stored wood and flammable materials under decks and balconies.
  • Prune lower tree branches 6-10 feet off the ground within 30 feet of the home.
  • Talk to your neighbors (with 6 feet between you!) about creating a bigger defensible space together.

Ashland’s FireWise webpage provides many more ideas on how to reduce the wildfire risk around your home. See ashland.or.us/prepareyourhome for recommendations that fit your unique situation.

This year the citizens of Ashland need to join the fight against wildfire with more vigor than ever before. With above-average wildfire activity already being observed in the U.S. this spring, emergency responders throughout the country who are trained to respond to wildfire are now also being pulled to respond to COVID-19.

Wildfire is everyone’s fight, so please help us fight it. And when you’re done, show off your accomplishments by posting a photo of your wildfire risk reduction work to our Facebook page, Ashland Firewise. We’ll be sure to say thank you by “liking” your work from a safe distance, but we look forward to thanking you in person once this upended reality is right-side up again.

Katie Gibble is fire-adapted communities coordinator for Ashland Fire & Rescue.