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Rhody takes steps toward becoming a FIREWISE community posted on 04/01/2019

At the March 16 Rhododendron Community Planning Organization (CPO) meeting, Hoodland Fire Chief John Ingrao offered a stark comparison of wildfire threats to wildland-urban interface communities such as Rhododendron and efforts these communities can take to lessen the severity of the inevitable fires.

“Rhododendron is no different unfortunately than Paradise, California,” he said, referencing the California town almost completely destroyed by a 2018 wildfire.

The CPO motioned to begin the process of becoming a FIREWISE certified community at the meeting, held at the Mt. Hood Oregon Resort in Welches.

Steve Graeper, CPO Board President has begun the process of contacting the state to begin the FIREWISE assessment for Rhododendron. The community will join Zig Zag, Government Camp and Timberline Rim Division 5 as FIREWISE certified communities in the Mount Hood region.

FIREWISE is a program of the National Fire Protection Association that performs fire risk assessments for communities and helps residents work together to reduce risks and prevent losses in the case of wildfire. The program provides grants to help establish 30-foot home ignition defense zones around properties and aids home owners in educating themselves on ways to protect their homes.

“Besides for medical responses, FIREWISE is the most critical thing we have to deal with up here,” Ingrao said.

He stated that as an interface community, Rhododendron faces greater threat from wildfires by being surrounded by forests in all directions, with the Bull Run watershed to the north, Oregon Department of Forestry and Bureau of Land Management land to the south and U.S. Forest Service land to the east.

“It’s a ‘when’ not an ‘if’ that a fire is going to happen up here,” said Jeremy Goers, assistant fire management officer for Mount Hood National Forest. “The more work you do on your home and your structure the higher the likelihood that we can save it.”

FIREWISE grants aid in the removal of debris, flammable vegetation and materials from 30-foot parameters around structures. This includes overhanging limbs and dense undergrowth as well as cutting and removing dry grass and weeds.

Home owners are advised to prevent embers from entering homes by covering exterior vents with fine mesh and preventing combustible material from gathering near structures attached to the home like garages or decks.

U.S. Forest Service ranger Bill Westbrook urged people to keep roofs and gutters clean of debris to prevent embers from smoldering and to keep spark arrestors on chimneys and chainsaws. “80 percent of our fires here are human caused,” Westbrook said.

FIREWISE instructs community members to maintain clearly marked emergency responder access to properties. Driveways should be at least 12 feet wide with a vertical clearance of 15 feet for emergency vehicle access and adequate turn around. The program also aids in the development of a community disaster and evacuation plan.

“It’s you helping us,” said Ingrao about the community participating in the FIREWISE program.

In the case of a widespread wildfire, firefighters will access properties to see if they have defensible parameters and are safe to protect. Goers stated that they will drop black rocks in the drives of houses that aren’t timely to save.

“We lost a lot of firefighters in California protecting people’s homes,” said Goers. “It’s a shame.” He added they will have to pick and choose considering safety and time.

Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District will be holding a “Keep your home and property safe from wildfire” workshop at the Hoodland Fire station, 69634 Hwy. 26, Welches on April 4th from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Pre-registration is required. Contact Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District at 503-210-6000 or by email at tguttridge@conservationdistrict.org to reserve a seat.

More information about the FIREWISE program is available online at www.firewise.org.

By Benjamin Simpson/MT

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