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C.O. fire officials show what it takes to be ready


When wildfires threaten Central Oregon, you see the response from different agencies, often in dramatic fashion. What you may not see is what happens behind the scenes, to make it all work.

At The Riverhouse in Bend on Tuesday, the City Club of Central Oregon hosted a wildfire simulation, so people could learn first-hand how response teams work together.

The closest fire department is not the only agency that responds to fires, of course Several agencies are typically involved, including the Oregon Department of Forestry, the state Department of Transportation and the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, to name a few.

When a wildfire strikes, all of those agencies (and more) need to be in constant communication, making coordinated decisions to manage the response.

“Without simulations, we depend on actual incidents,” said Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Services Manager Nathan Garibay. “So I think all would agree that it’s better for us to have some degree of preparedness before actual incidents occur.”

After the simulation, there was a Q&A session with the audience. Most people wanted to know how Central Oregon can avoid the tragedy that happened in Paradise, California last year.

“Paradise was the worst-case scenario of a worst-case scenario,” said Bob Madden, operations chief with the Bend Fire Department. “They have weather patterns that are conducive to that happening. We don’t.”

Nevertheless, he added, “We have to be ready, because a combination of issues, like this example today, of multiple lightning fires and strong outflow winds from a thunderstorm — that’s our biggest threat. We can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of fires.”

Madden said you can’t ever say a destructive, deadly fire like the Camp Fire would never happen in Central Oregon. So NewsChannel 21 asked what can be learned from that fire.

“Nobody is immune,” Madden said. “We have to understand and respect fire and, with the changes in our climate, it’s going to become a bigger issue for us. Our communities are built in a fire-adapted ecosystem, and we better sure as heck adapt to that ecosystem.”

Madden said the goal is for our communities to withstand an inevitable wildfire, without the loss of life or property. Garibay said you can do your part at home by reducing hazardous fuels on your property, creating a defensible space and understanding evacuation levels.

There will be another, more detailed wildfire response simulation at the Deschutes County Fair and Expo Center on Thursday. Similar to Tuesday’s simulation, the response teams will not know how the wildfire scenario will unfold.

In the wake of the Paradise Fire, Thursday’s planning session will include a discussion among numerous agencies and decision-makers about the impacts of a large-scale fire on communities and a cohesive, coordinated response.

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