Aspen Lake/Sisters, OR
The small town of Sisters sits in the middle of the state of Oregon, surrounded by the Cascade Mountains. In the past decade, the population has doubled to over 2,000 residents, making fire safety more important than ever. On August 5, 2012, a lightning storm passed over the area igniting at least 17 separate fires. Captain Matt Cyrus of the Cloverdale Fire Protection District was first on the scene at his family property, where one of the fires was burning.
“The flames were only about six feet tall when I arrived and my first thought was, the fire is doing just what we expected,’” said Cyrus. “We have been worried about that slope since we bought the property. Given the right dry, hot, windy conditions, we knew we could lose the trees on the property and potentially the subdivision at the top of the hill.”
The fire was not causing as much damage as it could have because Cyrus and his family had prepared for such a potential disaster. Shortly after acquiring the family property over 15 years ago, Cyrus partnered with the Oregon Department of Forestry and Deschutes County to treat 500 acres of land that provided a significant buffer of protection to his land and nearby subdivisions from the high risk of wildfire. Funding was also provided by FEMA’s Pre Disaster Mitigation grant program. When his family later developed the nearby Aspen Lakes community, they incorporated Firewise principles into its design as well.
“We constructed Aspen Lakes with Firewise principles in mind from the start,” recounts Cyrus. Defensible space and a landscaping approach that is mindful of fire behavior were key attributes in the development of Aspen Lakes, which became an official recognized Firewise site in 2009.
The recent fire on August 5 proved the effectiveness of fuels treatment on the landscape. The 2,400 square foot fire stayed low, never reaching more than 18 inches in height, even with the wind on it.
“It only took 30 seconds to put out,” boasts Deputy Fire Chief John Thomas at Cloverdale Fire Department. “If Matt hadn’t thinned some of the juniper and reduced the bitterbrush under the trees that fire would have moved quickly and we would have had a disaster on our hands.”
Aspen Lakes is just one of more than 800 Firewise communities in the country that are now safer through the hard work of local residents. Help your community become Firewise by visiting www.firewise.org.