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Orleans Humboldt County

Nestled amongst the rugged and steep expanses of the western Klamath Mountains in the northwestern corner of California, Orleans is surrounded by a rich variety of plant and animal life thanks to its unspoiled location. This elevated setting, despite having one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the state, is also constantly at risk for wildfire. The past 100 years has seen some of the wettest weather the area has ever seen, and with the rain and snow comes an increased growth of vegetation that poses a serious wildfire risk to the community now and in the future.

Since 2001, the Orleans/Somes Bar Fire Safe Council (OSBFSC) has worked tirelessly to defend the community from devastating wildfires, along with raising awareness about various risk reduction steps that can help neighbors keep their homes and property safer from wildfires. Working alongside the Orleans Volunteer Fire Department (OVFD) and the Karuk Tribe, a Native American tribe that has lived in the area for thousands of years, Orleans eventually became an officially recognized Firewise community in 2011. “Becoming a Firewise community has allowed us to network with other similar communities and make use of a variety of educational resources available through the program,” says Nancy Bailey, a member of the OSBFSC.

Since becoming a Firewise community, Orleans has carried out a variety of Firewise efforts that have helped citizens take an active part in preventing wildfires from damaging their beautiful community. In 2012, a series of eight neighborhood meetings were held that allowed residents to share their concerns and discuss solutions regarding local fuel conditions, ingress and egress routes, access to water, and the availability of emergency services. The following year, Orleans held a series of controlled burn events to maintain shaded fuel breaks. The experience empowered locals with the knowledge of fuel reduction, a crucial part of preventing wildfires. Their Firewise Day event this summer will take place at the same time as their annual “Old Timers Day” parade and picnic on Father’s Day. The event will feature a “Fire Preparedness” themed parade and will honor community members who have made exceptional efforts in making their homes safe from wildfire. As a winner for the Firewise Challenge, Orleans has earned $5,000 to put towards future Firewise efforts thanks to the generous support of State Farm, NFPA’s partner in the Firewise Challenge. “The grand prize funds will be used this summer to augment and expand planned Firewise activities, which are being funded by a separate Humboldt County Title 3 grant,” says Bailey. Among these activities are the organization of more neighborhood meetings, a community-wide fire hydrant painting contest, and the Defensible Space Project, a large-scale mitigation effort that will be carried out in a dangerously overgrown section of land that represents a wildfire risk to the whole community.