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Mt. Hood Corridor Wildfire Partnership presents excellent workshop

Editor’s Note: You will notice that there are two stories in this newspaper about this event. We decided to organize them both because of the importance of the event and the information it contains.

Fire and disaster experts warn that in our current climate reality it is no longer a question of if a wildfire will occur, but when. Most mountain residents experienced the 2021 Riverside Fire near Estacada and the 2023 Camp Creek Fire in the Bull Run watershed and Mt. Hood National Forest. They wonder what they can do to bring about a favorable outcome by preparing for the next fire. Enter the Mt. Hood Corridor Wildfire Partnership, a multi-agency group working together on a fire response action plan for our community.
According to a 2022 report from the Community Mitigation Assistance Team (CMAT), Mt. Hood Corridor Wildfire Partnership formed in response to several large wildfires near the highway. 26 Corridor and the eight-day Public Safety Power Shutdown (PSPS) PGE implemented in 2022 due to the Riverside Fire (Estacada). Given the number of federal, state and local agencies involved in a wildfire, the ZigZag Ranger District of the Mt. Hood National Forest and Hoodland Fire in spring 2022 discussions with CMAT about forming a multi-agency partnership. The intention was to be proactive, develop a fire response action plan and involve local residents by inviting Community Planning Organizations (CPOs) and Homeowner Associations (HOAs) to work together. The resulting partnership Mt. Hood Corridor Wildfire Partnership hosts educational outreach events such as the “Wildfire Ready Mt. Hood Homeowners Workshop” as part of the official fire suppression action plan.
On May 19, Hoodland residents gathered at Welches School for an interactive learning event presented by the Mt. Hood Corridor Wildfire Partnership. Participants in the “Wildfire Ready Mt. Hood Homeowners Workshop” were informed of the resources available. They took classes on reducing the risk of wildfire to their homes and properties, creating communications and evacuation plans, and organizing their neighbors to prepare for fires.
Kayla Bordelon, regional fire specialist at Oregon State University, opened the workshop by asking participants, “What brought you outside on this early rainy morning?” Pat Erdenberger, representing partnership member Hoodland CPO, answered truthfully: “Fear.”
Several experts from the agency presented information on four key topics. In “Home Hardening,” Jen Warren of the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Community Risk Reduction Unit and Ben Sproul, Community Wildfire Forester of the Oregon Department of Forestry, presented ways to prevent wildfires from becoming structure fires. “Did you know that up to 90% of homes lost to wildfires are the result of flying embers landing on flammable objects next to or in the home?” Jen asked. She talked about metal barriers to keep out flying embers and non-flammable building materials for roofs, fencing and siding. Ben said, “As firefighters we learn to look at the big picture. Can we save that house? Residents must do everything they can to create space where firefighters can work safely.”
At “Resilience/FireWise (community program),” Hoodland Fire Chief Scott Kline explained that there are more wildfires due to higher temperatures, more wind and lightning, and changes in vegetation, which is now burning hotter. He said: ‘Neighbors must work together to protect their homes, create an action plan, organize community clean-up days and become certified for the FireWise program.’ He introduced Melinda McCrossen, a resident of the Timberline Rim community. She spoke about the efforts to regain Tim Rim’s FireWise certification: “It’s important to set up an emergency network and change your mindset to what are we going to do in an emergency?” Melinda said of the benefits of her FireWise training: “I learned to look at my home differently.” FireWise is a joint effort of Clackamas Fire, ODF, NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), Hoodland Fire and Oregon State Fire Marshal.
The “Defensible Space” segment was outside on a wooded path. Jeremy Goers, FMO US Forest Service, ZigZag Ranger District, and Logan Hancock, AntFarm Community Defense Program Manager, pointed out flammable moss growing on a dead pine branch, identified young trees as ladder fuels and explained what a defensible space should be. “I think there can be a healthy balance between having trees and defensible space around your home,” Jeremy said. “During the assessment process we call the first five feet around your home the zero zone,” Logan said, “it should be free of vegetation, wood and anything that can burn. Remove pine needles from the roof and gutters, spread gravel around your home, clean the branches of your mature trees and remove all ladder fuel. It’s something you can do now.”
Clackamas County Emergency Manager Jay Wilson and Portland General Electric’s John Farmer presented “Evacuation and Hazard Mitigation.” “Being prepared starts with getting to know your neighbors – they are the people who will turn to you (for help) or be there for you,” Jay said. He talked about three things he needs to do now to prepare for a disaster: know the risk, prepare a go kit and have an evacuation plan. A resident asked him about communication without WiFi and electricity and how she would be alerted to accessible evacuation routes. Jay responded that reliable disaster communications are now being worked on. PGE spokesperson John Farmer said: “Good reminder to update your contact details with PGE so they can send shutdown alerts. Being prepared is a year-round responsibility.” He described how a wildfire Public Safety Power Shutdown (PSPS) works and why there may be some delay before restoration occurs as PGE crews inspect each power line before it can be safely turned back on.
After the workshop, all participants enjoyed lunch at Busy Bee Catering and had time to speak one-on-one with the agency’s representatives. “Our goal was to provide residents with the information and tools to address wildfire preparedness. An entire network of fire professionals in the Mt Hood Corridor Partnership is here to support them along the way,” said Kayla Bordelon. Brentwood Reid, Clackamas Fire, commented, “I am grateful to the Oregon Trail School District for hosting the event. They recently joined the partnership and have been an active partner.” Jen Warren added, “We are living in a time of change and we can adapt to living with wildfires. It takes a whole community, but we can be successful.”
Visit www.mthoodwildfirepartnership.org for information on creating defensible space, evacuation planning, signing up for a home assessment with AntFarm, the FireWise program and an upcoming wood waste collection event.