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Survey reveals growing concerns over wildfire in Oregon

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Detroit and Santiam Canyon Fire stock

Three safes, two with doors pried open, lay on the ground in Mill City in the aftermath of wildfires in this September 2020 photo.

As wildfires seem to grow in number and severity each year, Oregonians are expressing greater concern for how wildfire affects their own lives.

A recent survey conducted by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center found a strong majority of Oregonians see wildfires as "a somewhat or very serious threat" to residents of the state.

Respondents described challenges with managing the forests, as well as climate change that is drying out forest areas and making them more susceptible to wildfires.

The survey was conducted May 4-10, with 918 Oregonians responding. The survey has a margin of error of 2-3%.

Here are some of the hard numbers: Nine out of 10 (93%) Oregonians see wildfires as a somewhat or very serious threat to life and property. Most people expressed concern about wildfires affecting the people of Oregon rather than their own community (68%) or their family (58%).

Most Oregonians are also convinced that the number of serious wildfires will continue to rise. More than half said wildfires in the state will increase in both frequency (55%) and severity (53%).

Beliefs that wildfires will grow in frequency and intensity are not tied to political beliefs, the survey found.

Even though liberals and conservatives have diverging viewpoints on the existence and causes of climate change, more than 85% of Oregonians of all social and economic ideologies agree that fires are likely to become more frequent and more severe.

Two-thirds of young adults (aged 18 to 29) in Oregon said wildfires are a serious threat to their family (66%) and nearly three-quarters said they are a serious threat to their community (73%). This is a significant increase (19 and 17 percentage points higher) compared to people 65 and older.

Oregonians have more faith in private landowners compared to governments when it comes to preventing wildfire.

Around half of respondents (49%) think that private landowners are doing "very or somewhat well" at managing forests on their lands compared to 33% who say the state is doing "well," and 27% who say the federal government is doing "well."

Nearly two-thirds of Oregonians think that wildfires should be fought, even if they are far from homes and development (72%). This figure is 7% points higher than in August 2019, suggesting that the Labor Day fires in Oregon caused an increased urgency to fight fires.

The survey revealed that Oregonians are concerned about the unpredictable nature of fires, the air pollution caused by wildfire smoke, and the safety of wildlife.

What do Oregonians think they can do to protect themselves? Eight out of 10 (81-86%) respondents said that clearing vegetation around homes and hardening them against fires are top-tier strategies.

Two-thirds of Oregonians (72-76%) said controlled burns, thinning of weak trees, and purchasing more fire fighting equipment are top strategies to prevent wildfire.

More divisive is logging. Some 38% of respondents said logging is a strategy to reduce wildfire while 37% said they are against logging to reduce wildfire.

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