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Editorial: Preparing for wildfires is essential in Oregon
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Editorial: Preparing for wildfires is essential in Oregon

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Volunteers direct traffic at the Life Community Church during the June 19 fire evacuation exercise in Corvallis and Benton County.

Kudos to the city of Corvallis and Benton County for holding a massive fire evacuation exercise, and to the nearly 500 residents who participated in that event.

The exercise, from June, involved nine neighborhoods, and locals received alerts on their mobile phones directing them to evacuate to shelters in town.

Residents brought along 165 pets, including far more than just cats and dogs. There were 40 to 50 horses, ducks, goats, and, no joke, three blind pigs.

Five Mile Ranch in Beatty, Oregon, is in ruin after the Bootleg Fire scorched through the farm.

“What this should tell community members is that you need to have a pet plan in addition to a people plan,” said Dave Busby, a chief emergency planner for Corvallis who is a member of the Corvallis Fire Department.

Other lessons were learned, of course, including the importance of educating residents on alert levels, Busby said.

We’re thankful that Busby and other officials aren’t congratulating themselves too much about the fire evacuation exercise or other recent outreach to the community.

We’re also thankful that there’s more planning underway, including a table top exercise on Aug. 18 that will include Corvallis, Benton County, Oregon State University, the Oregon Department of Transportation, and the Oregon Department of Forestry.

There’s far more work to be done to make sure mid-Willamette Valley communities are prepared for disasters. And the danger is far too real.

In case you missed it, our little slice of paradise seems to be getting hotter and drier with each passing year, according to scientists and raw data. Climate change means a higher likelihood of devastating fires and thick smoke for Linn and Benton counties, as well as the rest of Oregon.

The September 2020 wildfires, which shrouded much of the state in smoke and resulted in a wave of death and destruction, should have served as a major wakeup call.

And in case you needed a reminder, the Bootleg Fire in Southern Oregon is the largest wildfire in the United States right now.

Again, it’s great that officials are preparing. But residents need to make plans with their families, too.

If you live out in the rural-urban interface, make sure you have defensible space around your home to protect your property and your loved ones.

Plan an evacuation route, both from inside your home, and in travelling from your neighborhood. Plan a place to meet, too, just in case all family members aren't home at the time of the evacuation notice. Be prepared to improvise if necessary, since things often don’t go as planned in an emergency.

And, if you haven’t yet, we’d urge you to create grab-and-go kits that could be critical in a disaster.

Public safety agencies suggest having a plastic tub, duffel bag or other container filled with supplies in case of a fire or other rapid evacuation. If you have a large family, smaller containers might work best.

Among the recommendations of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office are a 10-day supply of food and water for each person — freeze-dried foods such as Mountain House meals are perfect because of their light weight and long shelf life.

First aid supplies, toiletries, extra medications and other essentials such as paper plates and cups, a flashlight, toilet paper, plastic bags, cash, spare eyeglasses and more also should be in the kit.

Keep an extra change of clothing, blankets or sleeping bags, hats and gloves, warm socks and other necessities in the kit as well.

The Benton County Sheriff's Office Emergency Management Division has an excellent suite of preparedness materials at https://www.co.benton.or.us/preparedness/page/disaster-preparedness-information-resources.

Another way to be prepared is to go to the Benton or Linn County Sheriff’s Office websites and sign up for the Linn-Benton Emergency Alert Notification System. You can get details about disasters and other emergencies via phone, email or text messages.

And remember, wildfires could hit suburban neighborhoods in cities such as Corvallis, Philomath, Albany, Lebanon and Sweet Home and smaller mid-valley towns, too.

“Too many people think you only need to be worried about fire in rural areas,” Busby told reporter James Day.

Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security because you live in the city, or perhaps because you participated in a successful evacuation exercise.

It’s essential that mid-valley residents prepare for wildfires. We hope they never hit our communities. But we should be ready.

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