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Aaron Groth is the regional fire specialist for Columbia and neighboring counties.

COURTESY PHOTO: YESICA QUISPE  - Aaron Groth is based in Clatsop County for his role as one of six regional fire specialists serving portions of Oregon through a new OSU program.Wildfire prevention efforts all around Oregon are getting a boost from a new program at Oregon State University.

The Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Fire Program started up last year and has since brought on two statewide leaders and six regional fire specialists.

Aaron Groth started in January as the regional fire specialist covering Columbia, Tillamook, Lincoln and Clatsop counties and portions of a few neighboring counties.

The fire program "assists in identifying landscapes in highest need of a strategic focus of resources to reduce wildfire and landscape health risks at a statewide scale." The program also assists with on-the-ground implementation of some projects and provides education and outreach.

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"Our roles as regional fire specialists are to build individual and community preparedness for wildfire, to be prepared before a wildfire hits and also be prepared for what happens if a fire does hit — you know, your response to a fire — and then also recovery there after a fire," Groth said.

He added that, although the state sees more wildfires in the southwest region and east of the Cascades, the rest of the state isn't without risk.

"(We) want to make sure that fire risks are assessed and evaluated and then responded to, hopefully through the partnership of multiple organizations, be that small woodland owners, large timber owners, any state lands or county lands," Those in the conversation include soil and water conservation districts, watershed councils, the Oregon Department of Forestry and the state fire marshal, he said.

"There are multiple things that you can do as an individual at the household level. And then I would say that the other aspect of work is the more institutional, multiagency and organization-based, to promote cross-boundary management for wildfire resilience," he said.

Groth said he plans to develop an educational program, but he needs to become better familiarized with the area before that can begin in earnest.

"I want to make sure that any educational programming that I develop is based on assessed needs," he said.

OSU has prepared a series of online seminars about how to prepare for and prevent wildfires on an individual level. "One of my goals is to bring that down to the local level. But it's going to be very much based on site-specific geography in an area."

Groth is in the process of completing a doctorate in geography from the University of Texas at Austin, focused on landscape ecology, forest conservation and watersheds. He previously volunteered with the Peace Corps in Peru and continued working on forestry and conservation issues in the country.

"Fire was a major component of the Peace Corps service, especially in terms of being an observer of the practices around it," Groth said. His fluency in Spanish is also an asset in his work in Oregon, he added.

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