In the aftermath of the Skeleton Fire that destroyed 19 homes and 17,000 acres in Bend in the summer of 1996, a representative from Safeco Insurance called Bend’s Fire Marshal, Gary Marshall, offering to contribute to the purchase of new firefighting equipment. Marshall gently rejected the offer. Instead of buying equipment, he had something more effective in mind.
“A new piece of equipment might save one more home,” Marshall said. “But to really save homes, individuals have to take responsibility for their property before a fire”. His ultimate aim: To change the values and behaviors of citizens for generations to come.
Marshall’s innovative thinking paid off and FireFree was born. Through a partnership with Safeco Insurance and dozens of local businesses, fire agencies and private citizens, FireFree was launched in Bend in 1997 to promote 10 simple steps that homeowners can take to prepare their homes for wildfire and reduce their risk of loss.
The number one FireFree tip, and the main focus to the behavior change campaign, is to create “defensible space”, a minimum 30-foot buffer zone around a house that can be created in one weekend, and easily maintained.
To encourage citizens in Bend to prepare for wildland fires, FireFree partners with Deschutes County Department of Solid Waste and Deschutes Recycling to allow Free Yard Debris Recycling Days at Knott Landfill and Transfer Stations for yard waste.