FAC Outreach: Early Lessons From the Two Bulls Fire
Author: Ed Keith, Deschutes County Forester
If you keep up with fires nationally you may have seen the news regarding our recent fire just west of Bend, Oregon named Two Bulls. The fire started on June 7 as two separate fires, and investigators are searching for the people who may have started the blazes. The fire has had a high level of interest because of the large run the fire made on the first day that caused many outlying communities to be evacuated. (A wedding photo with the wildfire in the background went viral on the internet.)
Due to the high level of interest, Deschutes County fire officials and partners decided early on to be proactive in their communications about the Two Bulls Fire. Recognizing the urgent need for accurate and timely information due to the number of people that were being impacted by evacuations and smoke, cooperating agencies came together to establish a Joint Information Center (JIC) so messages could be sent out in a coordinated fashion. As part of this process the various staffers at the JIC have taken social and web based media to a new level. They are using a Facebook page, a blog and a Twitter account to provide information about firefighting activities, evacuations, air quality, closures, the investigation and more. As of yesterday, the Facebook page had more than 10,000 likes and the Twitter account had 750 followers. The blog has had 26,000 page views.
Besides providing information about the fire we are capitalizing on this incident as a teachable moment. The FAC Network hub Project Wildfire issued a press release June 9 urging residents to be aware, cut their grass, clean their roofs and take other actions to protect their homes from ember intrusion and flames. And the local newspaper ran an editorial urging residents not to be complacent and to create defensible space.
The partners are also looking ahead — we have scheduled a panel discussion on June 19 during which we’ll air a documentary produced by the Denver Post (The Fire Line: Wildfire in Colorado). The goal is to help people understand more about wildland-urban interface fires, wildfire risks to the community, and ways to reduce risks to personal property. The event is being advertised on the blog and various other websites and via a US Forest Service press release. Panelists will include myself, Bob Madden, Battalion Chief with the Bend Fire Department, Nathan Garibay, George Ponte, District Forester, Oregon Department of Forestry and Craig Letz, Fire Staff Officer for Central Oregon Fire Management Service. There will be a question-and-answer period following the panelists’ statements. Residents will be encouraged to ask questions of the panel of fire prevention and firefighting experts. Gary Marshall, former Bend Fire Marshal and current Fire Safety Manager at Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire, will emcee the event.
We look forward to sharing and discussing what we’re learning in Oregon about FAC outreach during incidents with the rest of the Network as well as other readers of this blog.