Veterans of epic wildfires gather at UO to share recovery lessons

Three years after one of the most destructive fire seasons in state history, the University of Oregon and Lane County gathered wildfire recovery experts from around the state to share the lessons learned to date.

The recent two-day Oregon Summit on Wildfire Recovery conference at the Ford Alumni Center brought in leaders and managers of fire recovery programs from communities affected by the fires of 2020. Attendees at the first-of-its-kind event reported on the progress of their recovery and heard updates from numerous panels and speakers about best practices that have been developed and implemented in the three-plus years following the fires.

Benjamin Clark, director of the School of Planning, Public Policy and Management, organized the conference with Lane County officials after seeing an opportunity and a strong need to bring together experts and stakeholders active in recovery efforts from the epic blazes. The school is home to the Institute for Policy Research and Engagement, whose focus includes resilience planning and policy. Faculty members have been conducting research on the wildfires’ impacts, making the event a good fit for the UO.

Attendees, who included numerous alumni, learned from their counterparts around Oregon about effective recovery strategies, which planning school faculty members, staff and students on hand could collect and incorporate into the resources they share with community partners.

“We have seen many effective techniques being implemented, developed or adapted by communities during the ongoing recovery,” said Clark, who also is an associate professor in the College of Design. “And we wanted to bring everyone together to share the successful strategies and the barriers they have faced in order to be better prepared for the next disaster.”

Roughly 200 people participated, including city, county, state and national elected officials and staff; community-based recovery agencies; and representatives from nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. 

Attendees heard from panels that shared strategies to minimize the risk of wildfires using legislative reforms to regulate home construction and renovations, along with ways to leverage communities’ relationships to support resilience and employ techniques to establish housing in recovery zones. They also discussed economic recovery planning, the importance of culture and trauma-informed strategies during disaster recovery, and more.

“It was fantastic to bring so many people from around the state onto campus to share the expertise they’ve gained over the past three years,” Clark said. “It benefits our state as well as our faculty, students and staff who were able to learn from this experience and will take the information and integrate it into our resources and curriculum or carry it forward as they venture into their careers.” 

By Jim Murez, University Communications
—Top photo: Homes being rebuilt after a wildfire