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Preparing for a Chiloquin Wildfire - reprinted from Klamath Herald & News

By TESS NOVOTNY H&N Staff Reporter Apr 26, 2019

A Klamath County nonprofit working to eradicate Chiloquin-area fire hazards received a $537,000 grant from the state Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board to thin trees and clear dry underbrush.

The Klamath Watershed Partnership, recipient of the grant, is a member of the Klamath Lake Forest Health Partnership. KLFHP is a collaborative network of local, state and federal fire and restoration entities to improve safety and health of private and government-owned forest land.

Leigh Ann Vradenburg, KWP project manager, said the state grant will go toward KLFHP’s specific “Chiloquin Community Forest and Fire Project” which aims to clean up and fire-protect 184,000 acres of land. This includes about 32,000 acres of private land, Vradenburg said, which is where much of KWP’s state grant money will go.

Vradenburg said other KLFHP organizations like the Forest Service and Natural Resource Conservation Service received various grants for Chiloquin fire protection efforts totaling nearly $3 million.

Highest risk

She said Chiloquin had the highest fire risk in Klamath County in a recent county-wide fire report which accounts for structure vulnerability, wildland fire history and predicted fire behavior.

As temperatures and precipitation fluctuates with climate change, and especially coming off last summer’s brutal Paradise Fire, Vradenburg said fire preparedness work is essential.

“Each place and situation is different but it’s some level of one of those things,” Vradenburg said. “Either thinning trees out to reduce risk, or clearing brush — brush around Chiloquin is a huge problem. It’s able to carry fire really fast, and then up into the trees.”

Private landowners

Vradenburg said KWP is primarily working with private landowners who might not have knowledge, time or resources to clear hazards from their properties. At the same time, Vradenburg said they work with fire agencies like Chiloquin Fire and Rescue, U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry to make sure their goals and tactics align.

Their tight collaboration, she said, echoes a common phrase in the wildfire community: “Fire knows no owner.”

“It takes this collaboration — federal and state and nonprofit local entities to really get the money, make the connections and move things forward,” Vradenburg said. “You have to have all those different partners who can bring things to the table.”

KLFHP member and Oregon State University Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center Forest Agent Daniel Leavell said the partnership encouraged solutions, not blame-shoveling, between partners.

“It has become the round table around which all of these representatives from all of these agencies and entities sit around,” Leavell said. “They do not defend their own agencies, but identify how to overcome barriers and accomplish things together.”

Local jobs

Vradenburg said the $537,000 would account for about 750 acres of cleanup. She said they will contract locally to get the job done.

Leavell said this focus on local employment was a key part of their strategy.

“We want to provide jobs, we want to provide volume to mills, and we want to put people to work and benefit the economy, benefit the local ecosystem,” he said.

To Vradenburg, any bit of help KWP can give to Chiloquin residents could not only keep them safer in the event of a fire; it could save lives.

“We want to be talking with these people, we want to be aware,” Vradenburg said. “Even giving giving them information on what they can do to reduce risk is really important. We can only do so much. Hopefully that will help the community as a whole.”

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