Natural-disasters come in many forms. Sometimes they are the product of singular causation, as in the case of a meteorite, or perhaps a volcano. In other cases, a mind-boggling alignment of conditions and variables, both natural and manmade, takes place, and the results are rather stunning. It’s called the “Swiss cheese effect,” and when “the holes” line up, disasters beyond imagination can — and do — occur.

Just think about the wildfire events that destroyed large portions of Redding and annihilated Paradise, California last year. Extreme winds coupled with high temperatures and unusually low humidity was a perfect recipe. Especially when you consider the extensive tracts of unmanaged landscape, loaded with fuel, covered with bug-kill and suffering from a prolonged drought.

Shall we blame climate change for this tragedy? Yes! Did the demands of the environmental groups and the reciprocation of federal land managers contribute? Yes! Is there a lesson here to be learned? There better be…or the next question is “Douglas County…would you like some whine with your cheese?”

Think about the cheese holes that are starting to line up. According to estimates being given by our local timber industry, the result of last winter’s “snowmaggedon” is that hundreds of millions of board feet of blow-down are now covering the northern portions of our county. Much of this dead-and-down fuel will never be removed and the increased wildfire hazard that it presents will extend into decades.

Add to this a rapidly-spreading infestation of beetles and borers (now approaching epidemic proportions), and on top of this, consider the hundreds of thousands of acres of federally controlled forests in this county that have burned in recent years and left unrestored as “standing-dead” and you can easily see an alignment of dangerous conditions.

The dead and dying timber will simply serve to burn the living timber even hotter, and what could confront us, given the kind of weather event that occurred in Northern California last year, is a fire-storm that actually dwarfs what they experienced…and a loss of life that is apocalyptic.

This very real possibility should concern everyone living in this county. If you are a naysayer and believe in your heart that such an event could never happen to us, you may be right. I would certainly agree that the odds are in your favor. After all, the holes in Swiss cheese very rarely line up.

If, however, like many of us out here, you are nervous about something that will probably never happen, I have good news! We have some very competent and well-positioned leaders in our local government and they share our concerns.

I have recently met with our Sherriff, John Hanlin, our Head of Emergency Management, Wayne Stinson, and Josh Shaklee, our new Planning Director. They have expressed a willingness to engage in a process intended to create a comprehensive system of evacuation routes. They realize that the majority of this county’s population live in rural, and therefore wooded areas, and they recognize the necessity for a professionally-designed, inter-connected, thoroughly-mapped, well-signed, and heavily-thinned, system of roadside fuel-breaks. Wow! Men with common sense…you gotta love it! And it gets better.

You may not realize it, but your community has a plan in place that contains local, area-specific information pertaining to wildfire events that could impact it. These plans are called Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) and most of them contain a directive to provide regularly maintained evacuation routes (roadside fuel-breaks).

Have you seen any roadside fuel-breaks in your community that would offer you anything more than “a snow-ball’s chance in…you know where”? I doubt it. That’s because these CWPPs have never evolved into anything beyond paperwork. That is about to change, but we need everyone’s help. That’s right…everyone’s help.

In the next couple of months, Planning Director Shaklee will be uniting leaders in his department with other community leaders to create a “CWPP Core Team.” Together they will begin an in-depth revision process that will include all of our county’s CWPPs. If these plans are ever to become what they were initially intended to be, public involvement will be important.

Director Shaklee will be posting notices in the News-Review ahead of a series of public meetings which will provide information, answer questions and record public comments. He will also be creating a link on the Douglas County Planning Department’s website that will offer updates as well as an opportunity to record comments. The participation of private and industrial land-owners, as well as support from tribal and federal land managers, will be required if these goals are to be achieved over the next few years.

Think about it, Douglas County. This is something that we can all agree on and work on together. It’s uncharted territory and will certainly contain unforeseen challenges, but the peace-of-mind that we can provide for the future of our communities is immeasurable.

Todd Vaughn is a long-time resident of Tiller, Oregon, and a member of Responsible Forest Initiatives.

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We need to clear the forest only invites really bad fires....

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