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When fires rage, there is a plan

The fire rages, enveloping green trees in orange and red bursts of flames and turns the black sky into a smoky copper. And as the minutes go by, the fire grows stronger and faster.

For islanders concerned about their homes and forest, there is now a document that can help.

For the last four years the San Juan Fire Chiefs’ Association has been working with the Bureau of Land Management to create the Wildland Fire Risk Assessment so that San Juan County can better understand wildfire vulnerability and resources.

According to Richard Parris, assistant fire management officer at the BLM Spokane District, the assessment is the “meat and potatoes,” but another document called the Community Wildfire Prevention Plan is what will be of interest to islanders, as it focuses more on the community.

The plan, prepared by Northwest Management Inc. combines information from the assessment, the San Juan Fire Chiefs’ Association and the community to promote awareness of wildland fire hazard and reduce risk.

“One thing it does is to tell us as first responders what we can do to mitigate fire risks,” said Fire Chief Kevin O’Brien.

Tera King of Northwest Management Inc., is hoping to have the plan finalized by mid-July before firefighting season begins.

King said it’s important for people to know the plan does not contain regulations or requirements.

“It’s more of a tool to use for finding information and to use as a leverage to seek funding,” she said.

The plan has projects ranging anywhere from better defense from fire in a private home to protecting wildlands from home fires to helping the Garry Oak fire ecosystem on Turtleback Mountain.

Some areas of vital interest on Orcas are Mt. Constitution, the vegetation around Rosario and various historic sites.

“If something is not in the plan it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything, it just means these are areas of concern,” Parrish said.

The plan focuses on mitigation of wildfire rather than prevention and offers site specific remedies, according to King, which could be as little as clearing brush away from a driveway to as extensive as brush clearing pruning and vegetation removal, but not as drastic as cutting down a tree.

A series of meetings on various San Juan Islands this month were held to gain feedback from the community about what should be included in the plan.

“The meetings were all about the community input, which is vitally important to the document,” O’Brien said.

For more information, go to www.orcasfire.org.

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