OSU Extension Fire Program increases outreach to Latino communities

Two children and an adult are visiting an Oregon State University Extension booth at an outdoor festival.

Oregon State University Forestry and Natural Resources Extension Program (FNR) has a mission to teach Oregonians how to be prepared for increasing wildfires, which in recent years have been larger and occurring more frequently in the state. Historically, OSU Extension foresters have been skilled at reaching out and providing educational support to forest landowners, a population that is largely white, English-speaking and often retired.

The Extension Fire Program works to enhance resilience to wildfire, and seeks to reach out to all people, whether or not they own forests.

In 2022, an anonymous donation, combined with existing program funding, enabled a targeted focus on non-English speaking communities through outreach, educational programming and publications. The donor, whose friend lost a house to wildfire, had seen and was inspired by the Fire Program’s “Fire Aware, Fire Prepare” webinar series and thought educational efforts be expanded to new audiences.

Extension staff took on a number of activities, including providing information and interactions in both Spanish and English to promote wildfire preparedness and resilience at the Latino Fest in Madras, the Alameda Fire Commemoration in Phoenix and the Resource Fair in Williams. Staff interviewed survivors of wildfire in Spanish to document each community’s specific needs. The program developed and translated informational cards in Spanish about basic wildfire preparedness for the home, simple actions to reduce wildfire impact before it strikes, how to be smoke ready and tools to support mental health before, during and after a wildfire.

As a result of this work, OSU Extension became aware of community interest in having FNR take an active role in outreach and education as a partner with existing groups like Conexon Fenix, the Jackson County Long Term Recovery Group and members of the Latinx Interagency Committee. The organizations emphasize the people they serve would benefit from OSU Extension taking an active role in collaborative meetings and events to better distribute information on preparedness, and in particular, helping to spread awareness that wildfire resilience is a goal that all members of the community can have a role in.

The Fire Program’s efforts have made it clear that expanding outreach to Latino communities and beyond is essential to effectively develop statewide wildfire resilience. With greater support, the Fire Program is invested in serving all underserved and underrepresented communities.