- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

BEND, Ore. (AP) - In Central Oregon, the wind coming off the Cascade Range pushes wildfire to the east, and the city of Bend has long planned to expand to the west.

Those two forces meet about where the Two Bulls Fire threatened the city last week - in ponderosa pine forest that experts say burns longer and can propel embers farther than the grasses and brush on the other side of the city.

“Close to the forest, on the west side of Bend, is probably one of the most desirable places to live from many perspectives - access to recreation and things like that,” said Phil Chang, natural resource program administrator for Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council. “But close to the forest on the west side of Bend might also be one of the most dangerous places to live, from a wildfire perspective.”

Two Bulls was the second wildfire in 25 years to burn on or near the west side of Bend, the Bulletin newspaper reported (https://bit.ly/1iC6DQ2 ).

In 1990, the Awbrey Hall Fire destroyed 22 homes. Since then, developers have built many high-end homes in its scar.

During the Two Bulls Fire, some residents were evacuated briefly, but no houses burned. The fire is considered contained. Authorities say it was human-caused but haven’t elaborated.

The city has planned since the 1970s to expand west toward the forest. City planners noted in the early 1980s that private landholders in the area had made investments based on the understanding they would be included in the city.

The City Council voted in 2009 for an expansion plan, but state officials rejected it for reasons unrelated to fire. Now city officials are redoing it.

Paul Dewey, a lawyer and executive director of the Bend conservation group Central Oregon LandWatch, said the 2009 plan could have put 2,000 more homes in the area where the wildfire risk is greatest.

“With that many more people and three schools, it would just be a nightmare to try to evacuate that in the face of a fast-moving fire,” he said.

The city’s principal planner, Brian Rankin, says it will consider the risk of wildfire as it works on the expansion plan. But because of zoning decisions local officials made decades ago, he said, land on the west side would still get top priority to be included in a boundary expansion.

He pointed out that a community wildfire plan assigns a high wildfire risk to the entire city.

“There’s no easy solution to this,” Rankin said.

Chang said major forest thinning currently underway will help reduce the risk from overgrown forests west of the city.

“I wouldn’t want people to hear that and say, ‘Oh, well, we can build wherever we want, and the Forest Service will protect us,’” Chang said. “But with the development in the wildland-urban interface we have in Central Oregon already, we can help to make those subdivisions a little safer.”

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Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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