Ceili Cornelius: The 2020 fire season was one that you might call unprecedented. With over 1.7 million acres burned in Oregon. It makes us wonder, will we be seeing these types of devastating fire seasons every year? And if so, we need to ask ourselves, how will we better learn to live with wildfire in the United States? A question that is a lofty one with many different potential answers. In the western US we are seeing a dramatic increase in the frequency and severity of wildfire in our forests. This fire is an inevitable factor. These fires are bigger, more frequent and more intense, and the fire season lasts longer. We see more fires because temperatures are rising and rain and snow levels are declining as a result of climate change.


Ceili Cornelius: The hot, dry, windy summer of 2020 brought this fire season frequency into reality. We saw severe fires to forest in the Willamette Valley, among them the holiday farm fire near Eugene that burned more than 170,000 acres. The Oregon forests share one big thing in common across the board. more of us live in these forests, more of us are living in places where wildfires occur and more of us are coming face to face with fires every year. So the question we need to consider is how to live with fire. Welcome. I'm Kayla Cornelius. I grew up in the forests of Central Oregon on the east side of the Cascades. Today on this episode, we are walking through the Why choose watershed, an area where the Whychus Creek as a tributary flows down from the three sisters mountains into the lower Deschutes River. These are the places where I spent my formative years hiking and recreating.


Ceili Cornelius: Today, we will hear from people who live among forests and study these forests and wildfires. They will explain why fires important to keep forests healthy. They will help us understand how we can learn to live with fire and to manage risk and avoid danger when fires do come.


Ceili Cornelius: We'll be talking to Jinny Reed. She's lived among the trees of Central Oregon for more than three decades. She spent many years working for the Forest Service and as someone I've known since I was young, Jinny, her ten year old daughter Reiko and I take a walk in the woods to learn how managing forests can help manage fire as we walk through the Whychys watershed.

Jinny Reed: Jinny Reed I worked for the force us for service for 32 years, all over the country. I retired last year February 2020.


And I was I retired as the assistant fire management officer of the sisters Ranger District.

Ceili Cornelius: We'll hear from Reiko who will see what forest become in decades ahead.

Reiko Reed: Hi, I am Reiko Reed, Jinny grades daughter, and I'm really proud to be her daughter because she's done such a good job with working with fire and forest service and I'm really proud of her.

Ceili Cornelius: We hear from fire ecologist Bart Johnson. And lastly, we'll hear from Paul Hessburg. He's a landscape ecologist with the Forest Service. We will be exploring what we can better do to learn to live with wildfire in the western United States. These people will be our guides today as we learn about living with fire and what the future may hold. Join me as we begin our journey into fire by taking a walk in the woods.


We begin our journey out on the Whychus Creek Trail off of forest road 16 west of sisters with Jenny Reed explaining what we'll be chatting about.

Jinny Reed: We are east edge of the Whychus  Creek, which is a watershed, a creek from the three sisters wilderness and we're going to talk about the watershed characteristics of the Why choose watershed and how fire interacts fire disturbances logging disturbances, beetle kill disturbances are important for the ecology of the watershed.


Ceili Cornelius: Reiko Reed was born and raised in Central Oregon, recreating in these Eastern forests and landscapes along the cascade crest, much like myself, these forests hold many memories and special places in our hearts.

Reiko Reed: Well, I mean, I've been out here since I was really little. Yeah, in my mom's belly, and then

it's really beautiful out here. My favorite part is just being out in nature because it's really beautiful. And there's a lot of places that are just, we've been there a lot and it just kind of bring back a lot of memories.

Jinny Reed: There are burnt snags, but even amongst vegetation that looks like it hasn't been touched by fire for many years. That nice shrub vegetation diversity. We've got the three different types. I see bitterbrush and Manzanita and snow brush, and then some of these trees look to be about 80 years old

Ceili Cornelius: 05:00 Jinny, Reiko and I then walk into a treatment area on the trail done by the US Forest Service A number of years ago containing grasslands and sparsely spread out trees.

Jinny Reed: It's more open, we don't have that age class diversity here, I see most of the trees are 80 years old 80 to 100, that one could be 100 years old there.


Ceili Cornelius: Jinny Reed has been a part of several prescribed burns in the Central Oregon area to reduce what are called ladder fields from the forest.

Ladder fields are basically dead shrubs, trees and branches that accumulate on the surface of the forest floor, that will be fuel for a fire if it came through an area.

Jinny Reed: And so what I know is that two years ago, this was hands thinned

05:41 and hand piled and burned. And what the goal was, was to reduce the ladder fuel cut out


the encroachment of young trees provide more space for the older trees


so that they have more space to grow and be resilient. And what I know about this watershed is that we have a comprehensive amount of knowledge associated with the soil bed. And we know what species grow best in each type of soil.

Ceili Cornelius: According to records from the US Forest Service quote, from its earliest days, the Forest Service pursued a single minded goal regarding fire, minimize the size and number of wildland fires, if not eliminate them altogether. End quote.


Jinny Reed doesn't see fire as a villain and something we need to get rid of, as it has been viewed for many years in the United States and by forest management.

Jinny Reed: It's not a villain. It's been portrayed as a villain for 100 plus years.


And the fear of fire has maybe been part of the detriment to the unhealthy


situation in our forests, currently.

Ceili Cornelius: Paul Hessburg landscape ecologist and PhD has an interesting perspective on the landscapes we have inherited and speaks to what landscapes someone like Reiko read might inherit in her future. The way these landscapes shape the western United States for us, will determine what her future for us might look like.

Paul Hessburg: I'm not saying to stop doing fire suppression, I'm saying reimagine the problem. If in fact, most fires are small to medium sized historically not these large events. And the reason why they're small and medium sized is they occurred under mild to moderate weather, the the parts of the forest were available to burn and these fires, they were doing, consuming surface fuels, dead wood on the ground, and they had needles in some duff and litter, and they would burn for a time but they would not produce belching smoke for weeks and months at a time.


Ceili Cornelius: These landscapes that we see fire in and are working with, according to Paul Hessburg look nothing like the landscapes of just 150 years ago, the types of landscapes that are meadow shrubland and sparse woodland. He says we're very significant historically, and it's a part of the secret sauce of how resilient landscapes are. Johnson also has his own perspective on how fire works in these forests.

Bart Johnson: wildfire people say that it's not a matter in the US west of when if a place will burn but when it will burn.


Ceili Cornelius:  Bart Johnson mentions the history of the paradigm shift from one wildfire was a part of the landscape frequently to when it was excluded from the landscape. This caused a massive effect on the landscape and parts of the forest that relied on wildfire. This came from years and years of fire suppression management practices and lack of low intensity frequent fire in the forests.

Bart Johnson: This of course, had devastating consequences for the ecosystems that depended on wildfire.

Ceili Cornelius: Johnson speaks to the fact that in order to reestablish some level of fire in the landscape, we have to connect it to things that people care about people's lives and property, which is now amongst the forest lands, and what we know as the wildland urban interface, where homes and property is on or next to forest land where fire can come through.


Ceili Cornelius:  In order to have better fire management practices, we have to connect it to the wildland urban interface have to link it to the social and economic values that people care about. The non-use of fire and forests that are meant to have frequent low intensity fire has caused a massive undergrowth problem in these denser, more moist environments, such as where the holiday farm fire occurred. somewhere like the Whychus watershed however, we see a lot more frequent low intensity fire as Jinny Reed explains back out on the trail moving west along the Mili Creek Fire scar.

Jinny Reed: If we put off fire for several years when it does show up, it becomes more difficult to corral and keep away from the areas that you want to protect life and property. Well the intensity of a fire burns a lot more extreme in an area.


That was frequent,


low intensity fire, such as the Whychus watershed.


And so when a wildfire burns through here, you don't have a lot of ladder fuels, you just have a grass, it'll go through quickly. It doesn't look like it'll make it into the canopy.


Ceili Cornelius: Jinny Reed explains the consequences of having thick, dense, non treated forests that allows there to be a lot of fuel for a wildfire to burn through, as we saw with the holiday farm fire in the dense environment of the Mckenzie River Corridor, and probably the vegetation or the ecosystem that that fire started in was you couldn't see 10 feet through the forest because it was thick. It's the west side, right? Yep. So it's that thick dug for white for hemlock, really thick, where you can't see this, you can see about 500 feet, you can see and that's a healthy forest.

Ceili Cornelius: The holiday farm fire west of the Cascades was a seemingly more unprecedent type of fire due to the type of environment, which is typically seen as being the moist wet Valley type of environment. But as we saw on September 2020, fire can burn through there, and it can be devastating and severe.


Bart Johnson: And so the holiday farm fire was coming down almost into the eco region, but it didn't quite reach it. By the time we were up outside of again, the valley floor or the lower foothills, you're into an area that was historically has been conifer forest for a long time, not all the way along there. The oaks and those grassland ecosystems went up at the upper valley floors and the lower elevation so that there are four switches that had to simultaneously turn on for this to happen.

Ceili Cornelius: According to Bart Johnson, these fire ignitions, and systems come from four switches needed to be flipped on in order to ignite these fires that we saw throughout the Oregon summer. These switches include an ignition source fields on the ground, a wind driven forest most likely, and the topography of the land that the fire is on. With those four switches, we see the type of devastating wildfires that we saw all summer.

Bart Johnson: Fire does not respect property boundaries. It doesn't care whether I've got a line in the sand here, it follows the fuels, and it follows the topography, and it follows the wind.

Ceili Cornelius: These fires follow the way that the landscape is shaped, we have no control over that. But we do have some control over what feels the fire has to eat up and the undergrowth of these forests. A lot of factors contribute to the severity of a wildfire. And if it becomes out of control. Again, as Jinny Reed explains.

Jinny Reed: When the fire does arrive. And if it's not, if it's on the right day, under the right atmospheric conditions, it can really cause havoc for firefighters to actually contain or control.


And we don't want firefighters put their lives at risk. We want our firefighters to be safe. So a safe forest is one that has


a moderate level of vegetation and has had frequent fire in it if it is a low intensity frequent fire ecosystem with this watershed and all across the west. Now across the nation, you have a fuel bed

that's been protected from fire and so it's just the more years you prepare to protect it from the inevitable influence the fire, the more explosive it'll become the longer you protect it. And so here all you need all over the west or even in this watershed, all you need is an ignition source at the right time. So if it's a windy environment with lightning, and it's the fuels are dry and you're on the side of the hill and the access is difficult for firefighters, it has an opportunity to grow bigger, which makes it more difficult to manage.

Ceili Cornelius: The wildfire dilemma that we see today is something that can be solved by better networking practices amongst communities. If we better learn to have fire management services city officials, the media ecologist scientists and the general public work together, this dilemma can at least be mitigated and better managed when the fire does arrive in a community. through social interaction and communication, a community can be better prepared to minimize the devastating impact of a fire.

Paul Hessburg: the wildfire dilemma is a social problem with ecological explanations.


Ceili Cornelius: Fire management services after the holiday farm fire are currently reassessing what worst possible scenarios look like. Because the holiday farm fire and the rest of the fires burning in the valley on that windy September evening, was the worst possible scenario they could imagine.


And now communities must reassess fire emergency response and mitigation and educate people on what fire in the community might look like. And how to respond effectively to protect lives and property


Jinny Reed: There are just many ways many tools. We just need to make them known and talk about them well in advance and draw pictures. Yeah, yep, draw pictures draw pictures. So fourth graders can understand that.

Ceili Cornelius: Out on the Whychus trail, Reiko looks across the landscape at the Millie Creek Fire scar, trying to better understand what she is looking at and describing the scene in front of her.

Reiko Reed: Well, I see a lot of trees that look dead in there, just bare it, it almost seems like it's blank. Like there's just the part of the forest that has been that has died out.

Ceili Cornelius:  These words are Reiko’s future. It is up to how we deal with our forests now to understand what these forests will look like, two years, five years, 20 years and 50 years from now. throughout those years, we will see a change inevitably, we know this fire is coming. Our planet is going through a massive climactic change. And that is going to happen no matter what. But what we can control is how we respond to what sort of change we see and pay attention to what the forest is telling us.

Paul Hessburg: Fire or the West slope for the coast range for the interior. Fire is coming to a neighborhood near you. It's inevitable. How are you going to invite it in?

Ceili Cornelius: Thank you for tuning into this podcast. I want to thank Jinny Reed and Reiko for going out with me on a windy, chilly Central Oregon day to talk about fire in the woods with me. I want to thank Bart Johnson and Paul Hessburg, for all of their wonderful insights and being a part of this. I would also like to thank my professor Torsten. He was my guide and creating this as well as all of our mentors, Dennis Dimmick, Brian Bull, Anna Smith and Peter Madsen, as well as thank you to the entire science story, class and team that put together this project to tell these stories. Thank you to my classmates for the endless support.


These stories are important ones to tell we are the future, and the future of our forests will be shaped by what we do now in order to protect them and use fire to its benefit.