Agencies brave heat to map fire danger zones

Last week’s heat wave coincided with the start of a project to map wildfire danger zones within Hood River County.

Peter Mackwell, Columbia Gorge Wildfire Preparedness Project coordinator, said four state and federal agencies are involved in developing the inventory of high risk areas. He said their goal is to overcome budget constraints by creating a central GIS data base to coordinate firefighting and prevention activities.

“We should be able to see the future potential where fire could spread once we get the lay of the land,” said Mackwell.

He said officials involved in the project want to avoid a repeat of last year’s Sheldon Ridge blaze in the hills above Mosier that blackened 12,761 acres and carried a $3.5 million suppression pricetag.

For the next 90 days, a small crew of fire prevention specialists will work with the Pine Grove fire department to pinpoint threatened homesites in that area. Brochures will be left for the owners of these properties to outline how they can create “defensible space” around their dwelling and outbuildings.

Mackwell, who works for the Washington State University Extension Service, said the mapping is being done in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Department of Forestry, Washington State Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service. It will overlap the Columbia River to include Skamania and Klickitat counties in Washington, and Hood River and Wasco counties in Oregon.

Mackwell said the four Gorge counties are being surveyed because they are at risk for a major wildfire because of high fuel loads and increasing development in timbered areas. In addition, he said weather conditions in the Gorge are typically warm and windy during the summer months, setting the stage for fires to be ignited by lightening strikes or careless recreationists.

He said the complete listing of potential problem sites within the involved counties is expected to take about two years. Once the inventory has been finalized, Mackwell said it will be used to alert emergency responders about potential obstacles and safety risks they could face during a fire. In addition, he said the data will help rural fire districts qualify for grant funding to purchase equipment and provide their volunteers with more training opportunities.

The “fire-wise” education presented to homeowners centers on the “Lean, Clean, and Green” program. Landowners are asked to take the following steps to get rid of flammable plantings while retaining natural screening:

Lean — Limit the number of plants within a 30 foot circle around the house and keep trees trimmed up and spaced about 100 feet away from structures.

Clean — Get rid of dead branches and dry undergrowth. Don’t stack kindling and firewood next to a house or outbuilding.

Green — Plant low growing herbaceous (non-woody) plants and keep them watered during the fire season.

For more information on the new project call Mackwell at 509-427-4130 or e-mail at:

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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