Businesses spread awareness about for wildfire prevention
In late July 2017, residents near Brookings watched news reports closely as the Chetco Bar Fire grew ever closer to the towns along the South Coast. The fire, which was ignited by lighting, eventually burned 191,125 acres and forced 5,000 people to evacuate their homes. Many forest fires are naturally occuring. Yet the latest research shows that more than 80 percent are human caused. In 2017, human-caused wildfires burned about 228,000 acres of forests in Oregon, according to Keep Oregon Green. These fires were entirely preventable.
With more and more people moving to Oregon, or visiting for the first time, there’s an increasing need to raise the level of awareness about wildfire prevention — and businesses have a role to play. Having a communications plan in place, and implementing it when the time is right, is just one way to educate visitors about wildfire prevention and safety.
“As a South Coast resident and a tour operator who relies on tourism, I’m deeply concerned about the threat of wildfires,” says Dave Lacey, destination coordinator for Oregon Coast Visitors Association (OCVA) and owner of South Coast Tours. “For my own part, I have kept more money in reserves in case I am faced with having to cancel tours this year, and I am trying to keep up to date about fire restrictions.”
Travel Oregon in June released a Wildfire Toolkit on its industry site, which includes easy-to-share messages about wildfire prevention and where to find up to date information about closures and air quality. Many businesses are sharing these tips through social media, e-newsletters and word-of-mouth. “I receive a lot of calls from the general public wondering if beach fires are allowed,” Lacey says. “I’ve realized how important it is for me to understand the restrictions, which can change throughout the season.”
In early July, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) banned all beach fires on public beaches between Coos Bay and Bandon until further notice, citing two beach fires that got out of hand in the area and required a response from firefighters. Wildfires can strike at any moment without warning and can be very costly to communities, damaging roads, buildings, homes and agricultural land and threatening wildlife and people. Businesses can take steps in advance to be prepared, such as purchasing business interruption service, creating a rainy day fund, and developing an emergency preparedness plan. Larger businesses, especially those with high volume traffic during the wildfire season, might consider developing an emergency communications plan to help ensure the safety of employees as well as customers.
A communications plan can be as simple as a one-page checklist of sample messages and communications channels through which to push them out. The plan might also include a list of FAQs that customers have had in the past related to wildfires. “Customers usually want to know what the air quality is like and whether or not they can count on doing all the activities they have planned,” Lacey says. “We always put the customer first. We allow people to cancel their reservation up to 48 hours due to wildfires or other hazardous conditions.”
Nic McNair, an OCVA board member and manager at Jerry’s Rogue Jets, says they rely on their boat pilots to report back daily with conditions and they relay to their guests.
Lacey points out that sometimes wildfires inland can actually be positive for businesses on the Coast. “We’ve had such an influx in visitors seeking refuge from heat and smoke that we’re running out of places for people to stay,” he says. “This is a relatively new problem for the South Coast and people are getting creative.”
What You Need to Know About Wildfires (TravelOregon.com)
Keep Oregon Green – Prevent Wildfires
Travel Oregon Travel Alerts
Oregon Dept. of Forestry Fire Restrictions Map
Northwest Interagency Coordination Center
Photo of whitetail deer on the South Coast by R.K.Willis