Wildfires will not likely emerge for another few months, but multiple local organizations are teaming up to prepare residents whose properties might be at risk.
The Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIC), in partnership with Crook County Fire and Rescue, Oregon Department of Forestry, and Crook County Emergency Management, is launching a new effort to help Crook County residents protect their property from wildfire threat.
Participants will work in neighborhood teams to create defensible space and reduce the risk of fire in and around their homes and businesses. COIC staff will work with Crook Country Fire and Rescue and Oregon Department of Forestry personnel to help residents identify fire risks in their neighborhood, create a simple community protection plan, and organize a community action day.
All participants will have the option to become a certified Firewise USA Community. Today, there are roughly 1,500 Firewise communities around the country and 156 in Oregon.
"It is a nationally recognized certification," said Janel Ruehl, COIC Program Coordinator. "Some homeowner's insurance carriers give a discount to Firewise community residents once they are certified. At the moment, the only insurance carrier that does it in our area is USAA, but there are others that are increasingly interested as our fire danger in the West continues to increase."
Ruehl went on to note that the designation puts a neighborhood in line with the checklist that fire departments use for wildfire property protection.
"It makes you a little easier to defend should a fire come along," she said. "It lowers the safety risk for firefighters to go into your community and defend your community."
The new fire preparedness program is open to any resident or any neighborhood, regardless of whether they live in the city limits or not, but it is focused primarily on neighborhoods within the Wildlife Urban Interface zone.
"Those properties that border the urban/rural divide are often where we see wildfire risks increase and where the effects of doing some work on your property to reduce fire danger can really have a big impact," Ruehl explained.
This past fall, Dry Creek Airpark utilized the program to become the first certified Firewise community in Crook County.
"We placed a big importance on being part of a certified program that would encourage neighbors in our community to follow something tangible and not just be a one shot deal," resident Dick Rohaly said regarding the decision to apply for Firewise certification for the Dry Creek neighborhood.
Another Dry Creek resident, Bob Bronson added that individuals are responsible for their own properties, and that's the first place that they need to protect.
Neighbors like Rohaly and Bronson led the effort in their community, utilizing their homeowner's association meetings to make decisions, develop an action plan, and educate their friends and neighbors. They included both private property and common areas in their action plan and found success with an early demonstration of fuels reduction work in a common area.
"We trimmed up the trees and cleared the brush in that small area. We did it over three weeks, and people could immediately see the benefit of it." Bronson recalls.
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