Photo Credit: The local meterologist, Bob Shaw at today’s TREX event. Photo by Alison Green

FireFree is the flagship program of Project Wildfire.  This educational campaign culminates in a call-to-action event each spring to hopefully motivate local residents to create or maintain their defensible space. It allows for residents to dispose of the yard debris generated by wildfire preparedness activities easily and cost effectively. Did we mention our spring event is FREE?

Prior to 2015, the average amount of yard debris collected came in around 21,500 cubic yards. Last year’s event brought in a record-breaking amount of almost 30,000 cubic yards. Our local residents proved that they have been listening. This year’s event collected 37,969 cubic yards which is a 27 percent increase in just one year. For perspective, this amount of debris would fill 3,800 dump trucks.

The Westside Transfer Station located on Simpson Avenue had a FireFree FIRST, bikes hauling yard debris. This shows that residents of central Oregon will not let a barrier such as lack of a vehicle to haul debris hinder their efforts to be more prepared for fire season.

Participants brought debris via bicycle! Photo Credit: Susie Mansicalco, Deputy Fire Marshal for Bend Fire

Participants brought debris via bicycle! Photo Credit: Susie Mansicalco, Deputy Fire Marshal for Bend Fire

Central Oregon was full of firsts this spring. The Deschutes National Forest hosted the region’s first annual prescribed fire training exchange (aka TREX) event. After our dry spring, Mother Nature threw us a curve ball with a 2-week long rainstorm that hindered the group’s burning agenda just a bit. However, the local leadership found areas that had not been as affected by the weather for our visiting fire practitioners to burn. But this TREX event had an additional component to it. Many of the local partners wanted to get the most out of hosting a TREX; we needed to talk about the social dynamics of the Deschutes National Forest and how the participants would communicate effectively about prescribed fire with the media.

With help and more help from our partners, Project Wildfire implemented a media campaign that was designed to dovetail with the arriving TREX participants. We used the local news station, radio and printed media. The earned media that we were able to leverage was astounding. Our local radio stations gave extra PSA slots that were not part of the commercials we recorded. Local newscasters on the radio stations facilitated interviews with local elected officials, the Forest Supervisor and a representative from our local Nature Conservancy office. The local news station produced a video for the TREX messaging for less than $200. It was incredible to see the support from the local voices when we started the conversation about prescribed fire.

Both our local residents and Project Wildfire’s federal partners are preparing the landscape long before there is smoke on the horizon. Spring provides an excellent teachable season where we can focus on wildfire preparedness and landscape restoration while making sure we are communicating to the public how it is all under the Fire Adapted Communities umbrella.

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