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$1.8 million coming for wildfire mitigation projects in Southern Oregon

Oregon Department of Forestry crews respond to the Goldbrook fire near Grants Pass Wednesday, one of 20 fires ODF has responded to in Jackson and Josephine counties over the past two weeks. The agency hopes to mitigate fire danger with several planned projects in Southern Oregon, funded by $1.8 million from the state. (Photo courtesy ODF)
Projects in Jackson County include fuels reduction work in Ashland, Gold Hill, Rogue River and Wimer

Close to $2 million in state funds are headed to Southern Oregon counties for wildfire mitigation projects.

In January, the Oregon Legislative Emergency Board issued $5 million for wildfire mitigation projects across the state. The Oregon Department of Forestry put out a call for project proposals and received 93 applications and selected 37.

The $1.8 million headed to southwest Oregon will go toward 14 projects — seven in Jackson, Josephine and Curry counties, and seven in Klamath and Lake counties, ODF reported.

Jackson and Josephine county projects include fuel treatment efforts around Ashland, Gold Hill, Rogue River and Wimer. Some will involve fuels-reduction work on private property. Other funds will go to fuel treatment projects in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. A key endeavor will target hazard trees within the 157,229-acre Slater fire footprint.

In all, fire officials expect more than 7,000 acres worth of land will be treated, including use of prescribed fire, with 750 trees felled, 20 miles of mitigation treatments along area roads and driveways, and 10 miles of hiking trail repairs.

“It’s kind of a full picture. We have land owners involved who are getting money, we have companies coming in and doing the work,” ODF public information officer Natalie Weber said. “It’s very well rounded, and it’s getting everyone involved.”

Weber said forestry crews are cognizant of the apprehension that remains following the Almeda and South Obenchain fires last September, which destroyed numerous structures in the Rogue Valley and displaced thousands of people.

“We’re going into this fire season with a lot of people who are healing from last fire season. They’re dealing with a lot of trauma. It’s understandable that a lot of people would be scared going into this fire reason. That’s something ODF is very aware of,” Weber said. “With the work that’s going to be done, it’s likely going to be a lot easier to catch, and maybe not even start to begin with.”

There’s a narrow window to get the work done, with E-Board funding available only through June 30.

“Which puts a little pressure on these companies to get the work done,” Weber said. “I know a lot of people have just been hitting the ground running.”

“But it’s good, because now’s the time this work needs to be done,” Weber added. “It’s just a little tight.”

Recent controlled burns within the Ashland Watershed are separate from the E-Board funding, said U.S. Forest Service public affairs officer Virginia Gibbons.

ODF and other area fire agencies have been kept busy the past two weeks, with crews responding to 20 wildfires in Jackson and Josephine counties. Three of those ignited Wednesday in Josephine County. One, Wednesday’s Tarter Gulch fire, grew to 33 acres on a recently replanted timber harvest area nine miles southeast of Cave Junction.

Of the 20 fires to flare up in the two-county region, 13 have involved escaped burn piles. Fire officials urged caution when conducting debris burns, and delaying the work until a bout of cooler, wetter weather.

Forestry officials also asked landowners who have already conducted controlled burns to keep an eye on the charred remains, as they can reignite, even after several weeks.

“Just make sure there isn’t any heat in the area,” Weber said. “That could mean one less fire.”

The region’s recent spell of dry, warm weather is expected to continue, according to the National Weather Service.

“It’s essentially quite dry for the next seven, eight days,” said meteorologist Charles Smith.

Last month, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners declared a drought disaster due to historically low water levels in area reservoirs brought on by subpar snowpack and warmer summers.

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanpfeil.