Photo Credit: Field trip attendees look down on the area burned by the Shevlin Fire. Photo by Alison Green, Project Wildfire
Twenty-five years ago, the Shevlin Commons neighborhood near Bend, Oregon had not even been platted for development when the Awbrey Hall fire consumed much of the natural vegetation, leaving a barren landscape in its wake. Now, in the fire scar that Awbrey Hall left in 1990, there is mature decadent bitterbrush and manzanita blanketing the landscape, mixed with homes. Last summer’s Two Bulls wildfire sparked action in the Shevlin Commons community when many could see flames from their decks.
Creating a space that was both fire resistant and healthy for wildlife was the balance that Project Wildfire, Bend Parks and Recreation and Shevlin Commons Residents were trying to achieve. After many community meetings and walks through Shevlin Commons, all of the partners set their sights on treating a 43-acre Bend Parks and Recreation easement that bordered the neighborhood in order to create a firebreak on the west side of the community. After some discussion, the partners agreed that reducing 70 percent of the brush would meet both the habitat and wildfire mitigation goals. Project Wildfire and Bend Parks District jointly funded the fuel treatment that was completed in February 2015.
On June 11 a wildfire provided a test of the fuel reduction project. A human-caused fire quickly burned 7.9 acres on the other side of Shevlin Road and began throwing embers across the road into the treated easement. An ember ignited an area downhill that had not been treated and started a small spot fire. There were no spot fires ignited in the easement, and the spot fire was readily suppressed due to the reduced vegetation.
Many residents had initially expressed concerns about removing bitterbrush and manzanita. But after seeing the result and the native vegetation that rebounded, attitudes have shifted.
On August 3, Project Wildfire, Deschutes County and Bend Parks and Recreation District conducted a field trip for Shevlin Commons residents. Attendees saw how the Shevlin Fire moved through treated versus untreated areas in Shevlin Park. The fire was unable to move through the area treated in 2008. In untreated adjacent areas, the fire climbed quickly uphill, consuming brush and trees. Field trip leaders noted that within the fire perimeter and spot fires 100 percent of the bitterbrush and manzanita were consumed, but the rabbitbrush and currant were already returning from the roots of the larger plants consumed in the fire. The field trip was covered by journalists from the Bend Bulletin and KTVZ Channel 21.
This teachable moment can be celebrated as a fire adapted communities success story and also as a moment where we can see the other two goals of the Cohesive Strategy at work. The fuels treatment created a healthier, more resilient landscape in both the easement directly bordering Shevlin Commons and in Shevlin Park. And the quick, integrated fire response was made possible by the fact that the personnel could safely engage the Shevlin Fire and stop the forward progress in one operational period.
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