Often agricultural areas are viewed as being safety buffers during wildfires, where irrigated crops and orchards are less likely to burn than the surrounding landscape. However, dryland crops often have increased fire behavior than the surrounding vegetation, especially when crops are dry and have not yet been harvested.
Over the last several years, wildfires on agricultural lands have increased, causing damage to orchards, crops, livestock, and farm infrastructure. Farmers and ranchers are well experienced in preventing wildfires on their property, but those traveling through rangeland and farmland are, unfortunately, less careful. As the number of people living and recreating in the Columbia Gorge increases, so does the probability of a fire happening.
The devastating wildfire season of 2018 in the wheat growing regions of Wasco and Sherman counties burned nearly 120,000 acres and resulted in a fatality. In response, Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration created new requirements in 2019 for producers with employees who engage in suppressing wildfires on farmland and rangeland. The Oregon Wheat Growers League also contributed critical feedback on these requirements. Employees do not need to be red card certified like professional firefighters, but must receive some form of basic wildland firefighting training and an annual refresher. Additional OSHA requirements include having an emergency action plan for medical and fire emergencies, fire prevention plan, and job hazard analysis.
If you are currently in a Rangeland Fire Protection Association (RFPA) or Rural Fire Protection District (RFPD), you do not need additional training — however, you do need to complete the required plans. These requirements are not enforced up front, but producers could be liable if an employee is hurt while suppressing a wildfire.
While these requirements add another layer of regulations, they are encouraging action plans and basic training that will reduce the risk of wildfires to agricultural producers’ physical and mental health, along with their crops and farm infrastructure.
OSU Extension Service is providing preparedness training for wildfires in agricultural areas, with a focus on dryland crops and rangelands. Much has been done with wildfire education for the wildland urban interface, but needs to be adapted to meet the increased complexity and scale on agricultural lands.
Detailed information on these requirements, templates for required plans, and links to two online classes developed to explain and meet the requirements can be found at beav.es/JjL.
Jacob Powell, general agricultural extension agent for Sherman and Wasco counties, has several webinars planned during May, which is National Wildfire Awareness Month. The first webinar will be on April 27 from noon to 1 p.m. on Wildfire Defensible Space for the Farm and Ranch; register at beav.es/J9w. You can also find and register for upcoming wildfire webinars on the Wasco County OSU Extension website under events at extension.oregonstate.edu/county/wasco/events.
Webinars will be recorded and posted to the OSU Extension Service North-Central Oregon YouTube Channel, beav.es/42a. Additional webinars include:
Livestock evacuation during wildfires, May 11
Dealing with cheatgrass, May 18
Mitigating wildfire risk through grazing and taking an inventory, May 25
OSU Extension Service also has a new statewide Fire Program that is putting on Wildfire Webinars on every other Wednesday through June. These webinars focus on the wildland urban interface and woodland owners, but will be applicable to anyone living in Oregon. More information on the new fire program and their webinars can be found at beav.es/FAFP.