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Collaborated effort by community a priority for wildfire threat posted on 11/01/2022

After near misses from the Beachie, Lionshead and Riverside wildfires and two Public Safety Power Shutdowns (PSPS) by Portland General Electric in two years, the danger of wildfire along the Hwy. 26 corridor between Sandy and Government Camp has gone from a vague possibility to an urgent and annual threat to the approximately 19,000 people who call the corridor home.

“We’ve been fortunate we haven’t had a large fire on the Hwy. 26 corridor at this point,” Hoodland Fire District (HFD) Division Chief Brian Henrichs said. “To keep our communities safe, the magnitude of work that needs to be done is daunting.”

To help the multiple groups living and serving the region along Hwy. 26 better coordinate their wildfire resilience efforts, HFD and the Zigzag Ranger District of the Mount Hood National Forest arranged for a national inter-agency Community Mitigation Assistance Team (CMAT) to visit and evaluate the region’s fire mitigation efforts. The team visited the Mount Hood communities from Oct 3. to Oct. 13.

CMATs are enlisted nationally to help resolve fire mitigation challenges that occur in a region when multiple groups are involved. The team’s goal for their visit to the Mount Hood region was to assist residents and organizations along Hwy. 26 establish a wildfire partnership to coordinate and develop long-term fire mitigation strategies using best practices.

“(The evaluation) was to help us collaborate and unify our efforts, so we’re not all working in different directions,” Henrichs said.

CMATs are comprised of public and private wildland-urban interface mitigation professionals from across the country and are sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

The CMAT met with entities along the corridor and assessed their ongoing efforts and challenges preparing for wildfires.

The meetings included local homeowner’s associations, community planning organizations, the three fire districts along Hwy. 26, Portland General Electric, Portland Water Bureau, the Oregon Department of Forestry, Skibowl, Timberline Lodge, the USFS and several other government and community groups.

The CMAT then presented recommendations for action and collaboration throughout the communities. The goal of the guidance is to help address high-risk areas on the corridor and focus the use of resources on larger projects instead of taking a scattered approach to smaller treatments.

The CMAT presented a report with advice for all stakeholders, including short-term immediate priorities and long-term, five-to-seven-year goals, as the corridor develops a partnership to become wildfire adaptive.

The CMAT proposed generating momentum for the regional partnership by achieving some small, early accomplishments, such as establishing slash disposal sites at quarries in the region for cleared brush and other fuel sources, getting chipping done in communities that have already cleared brush and supporting roadside projects.

“Individual homeowners are going to have to take ownership and start hardening their properties,” Henrichs said.

Henrich added that participants hope the partnership will allow the region to receive grants to aid in the fire mitigation efforts. Government Camp recently received a $75,000 grant for homeowners to harden their properties. Similar grants can help address the expense of chipping and contractors to clear defensible space on properties.

The CMAT urged all parties involved in the fledgling partnership to celebrate accomplishments and coordinate resources, but to focus on investing most of their time and resources on risk mitigation. The group cautioned that meetings and events do not reduce the risk of wildfires, and that clear goals should be established and met at each meeting.

The CMAT report stated that for the region the threat of fire has become personal.

“Residents, visitors, businesses, and public service agencies alike were without power for 8 days, with smoke in the air from a nearby fire and no way of finding out what was going on,” read the report, detailing the first PSPS event as a wake-up call for the region and an impetus for the new wildfire partnership.

The CMAT report recommends that adaptation to the increased risk of wildfire begin with personal action by hardening defensible properties and continue outward as a coordinated effort to establish resilience throughout the region.

More information about preparing your property for wildfire is available online at https://www.hoodlandfire.us. More information about the Community Mitigation Assistance Team program is available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/managing-land/fire/cmat.

By Ben Simpson/MT

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