Oakridge/Westfir Thinning and Fuels Reduction Project

Reducing the Risk of WildfireA helicopter flys over the town of Oakridge

Living in the Oakridge and Westfir area means you are surrounded by beautiful mountains and lush forests, but it also means your home is at risk from wildfire. Fires have burned almost 20,000 acres within 11 miles of Oakridge since 1988. High intensity crown fires have burned extensive acreage on Dead Mountain, within the project area, three times in the last 125 years: 1883, 1910, and 1967. Fuels have been accumulating in the project area for decades. The purpose of the project is to reduce hazardous fuels in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) around Oakridge, Westfir, and the High Prairie area north of Oakridge to increase public and firefighter safety, reduce fire suppression costs, restore and maintain the landscape to more historic conditions, and improve forest health, growth and vigor.

A graphic showing the benefits of forest thiningIn order to reduce risk of a catastrophic, large wildfire to the Oakridge/Westfir and the High Prairie areas, the Middle Fork Ranger District cooperatively with the City of Oakridge, Emergency Services Department, the Hazeldell Rural Fire Protection District, the City of Westfir, and the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) designed and begun implementing a thinning and fuels reduction project.  The project takes place on Willamette National Forest lands north of Oakridge and Westfir, and east of High Prairie. It is designed to complement the Lane County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP), which assists land owners in reducing fire risk on private lands.

Background

Forests in the project area were shaped by the 1910 Dead Mountain Fire (Flat Creek and Dead Mountain area) or from logging that occurred in the 1920s and 1930s (North Fork of the Middle Fork Willamette River area). Most of these forests are now made up of densely stocked Douglas-fir and other species ranging in age from 80 to 120 years. In most of the project area, the tops of trees are touching, or close to touching each other, thus increasing the risk of large, wind-driven crown fires. In only the last 25 years, we have experienced nine larger fires within ten miles of these towns, as well as many more smaller ones.

What Will Be Done

A prescribed burn in the forest A helicopter used for logging
Thinning and prescribed fire are used in combination to reduce the risk of wildfire.

Working under the scope of the project Decision Notice, to reduce the wildfire risk, two main activities are taking place. One is the thinning of the forest that border the communities. This work will be accomplished by helicopter, cable and ground-based yarding. Log trucks will be used to transport the commercial logs to local mills. The second activity is prescribed fire to burn away the unmerchantable debris and wood after the logging activity is completed (otherwise known as fuels reduction). As a citizen, you can also take action to help reduce the risk of wildfires in the area. Working with state and local officials, you can help make your property a defensible space. Contact Oregon Department of Forestry for more information.

How it Works

This project reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfires by reducing the density of trees in the forest, so that when a fire does occur, there is less wood, leaves and debris to burn. Spacing between trees will also be increased, which means it is less likely for a fire to move through the tree canopy – where it is extremely difficult to stop. The prescribed burns clean up the tops of trees, shrubs and other material that was not removed by logging. Other work includes cutting and removing trees under seven inches in diameter to take away the ‘ladder’ a fire uses to climb into the canopy. What is left behind is a more open forest.

A side by side image of a unthinned and thinned forest
(Left photo) Forest stand before a thinning treatment. (Right photo) Adjacent area after thinning to a spacing similar to that of the Oakridge/Westfir Thinning and Fuels Reduction project.

Frequently Asked Questions

What has been accomplished?

By March 2018, we have thinned out approximately 500 acres of forest near Westfir along Forest Service Road 19, and another approximately 300 acres on Dead Mountain. We have treated 300 acres by removing small trees (under seven inches in diameter) and debris near the Fish Hatchery and from 8 acres along Airport Road. We have also completed three prescribed burns along Forest Service Road 19. Work is underway to thin stands on three timber sales on the east side of Oakridge.

How will this project impact the average citizen?

As the project continues, you may hear the noises associated with logging, such as a helicopter flying overhead and yarders at work. You will likely see more log trucks on High Prairie Road, MacFarland Road, Oakridge/Westfir Road, Fish Hatchery Road and Salmon Creek Road. You will likely see smoke in the air when we burn. For your safety, the Dead Mountain Trail is subject to temporary closures due to the proximity of logging and burning activity. After the projects are complete, while not highly visible from the town, your home will be safer from wildfire.

How many acres will you be burning?

We have a total of approximately 1,500 acres to burn when thinning is complete, and will be spreading the work out over several years. In 2018, we expect to conduct prescribed burns on approximately 200 acres outside of Westfir and 40 acres on the east side of High Prairie near Oakridge.

How do you manage smoke?

We plan prescribed burns when we have the best opportunity to minimize smoke impacts, and for smoke to be carried away from the area. Additionally, we are sensitive to air quality issues and avoid prescribed burning during red and yellow days, and adhere to Oregon Smoke Management directives. We also cover all of our debris piles to ensure that they burn cleaner.

What if the fire escapes?

We have several lines of defense set up to keep the prescribed burns from escaping. We will have fire line built completely around the unit, with hose line as well. There will be several crews of firefighters working during the burns, and they will monitor the sites daily.

Can I do anything to help?

Residents can Firewise their properties to make them more defensible in the event of a wildfire. There may be grants to help you complete this work. Contact Oregon Department of Forestry at (541)726-3588 for more information. We can also use your help explaining the goal of this project to your friends and neighbors.

Where can I get more information?

If you have any questions or concerns about this project, please call us at the Middle Fork Ranger District: 541-782-2283. Updates will be posted on InciWeb at https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5757/ and on our Facebook and Twitter sites.





https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/willamette/fire/?cid=fseprd576662