During a wildland fire, plant material can act as fuel and increase the intensity of the fire. These fuels allow fires to burn hotter, longer, and faster, making the fires more difficult and dangerous to manage. Houses and other developments in or near the wildland-urban interface (WUI) are surrounded by these fuels.
Removing burnable vegetation can mitigate wildfire hazards by reducing the continuity and availability of fuels. The objective of any fuel treatment project is to remove enough vegetation so that a wildfire burns less severely and is more easily managed.
Fuels have historically been treated outside of communities to provide a buffer between forest land and the wildfire-prone areas. Recently, land managers and communities have started reducing fuels within wildfire hazard areas as a way to lessen the impacts of fires that either move into the community from the wildland or originate from within the community.
To reduce flammable material within and near communities, land management agencies strategically remove and reduce fuels. Strategies include:
- Deliberately starting a fire (prescribed fire) under favorable conditions to remove excess vegetation and other fuels. Prescribed burning reintroduces and maintains fire within the fire-adapted ecosystem, helping to stabilize and improve the resiliency of forest conditions while increasing public and firefighter safety.
- Thinning forested areas using saws or other equipment.
- Reducing grasses and shrubs mechanically or using domesticated grazing animals.
- Chemical treatments.
Fuels treatments complement other wildfire mitigation strategies, such as creating defensible space, home hardening, and other mitigation measures within the built environment to reduce risks to people, homes, and communities and make wildfire response safer and more effective.
Deschutes County, Oregon – The Deschutes National Forest, the Bend Park and Recreation District, and The Tree Farm LLC—developers of the new Tree Farm neighborhood—have worked together to bring prescribed burning into Shevlin Park and the Tree Farm area west of Bend, OR, to reduce potential wildfire fuels and improve forest health.
The collaborative agreement covers fuels reduction work on 700 acres of land within Shevlin Park, the Tree Farm neighborhood, and adjacent national forest lands. Prescribed burning has reduced the impacts of a large fire on the City of Bend and improved forest health and wildlife habitat. The prescribed burn area within Shevlin Park has been an excellent classroom to educate the public on the important role that fire plays in Central Oregon’s forest ecology. Prescribed burning in the new Tree Farm neighborhood demonstrates a proactive approach to reducing wildfire risk. In July 2022, the U.S. Forest Service announced a $41.3 million investment in fire treatment on 50,000 acres of public lands in the region, most of it in the Deschutes National Forest. The money will pay for fuels reduction through selective logging, mowing of underbrush, and prescribed burning as well as native plant restoration, habitat improvements, and watershed enhancement on forest land directly west of Bend, La Pine, and Sisters. Thinning, mowing, and prescribed burning in the same area helped reduce the intensity and duration of a portion of the 2017 Milli Fire, making the fire easier to extinguish, protecting private lands in the area, and lowering the threat to adjacent communities.