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Fall River

Although fire prevention had been a topic of discussion for some time, it did not become a focus until the 1999 Crane Complex came knocking on Fall River Estates door. The residents decided to take action.

Their first grant application was for a hydrant system that did not get funded. They didn’t give up, however, and decided to apply for a second grant to create defensible space within their neighborhood. 

Fall RiverBrett Councellor, Fall River resident and Homeowner Association (HOA) Chair at that time, started by contacting the USDI Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to ask if Fall River residents could create defensible space 100 feet onto BLM land as a buffer for their community. The BLM agreed and residents went to work. Brett then contacted Stewardship Forester Stu Otto at the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) about possible funding for defensible space to help the community with its efforts. There was $15,000 of grant funding available and Fall River went to work on their properties. Community members volunteered and got an enormous part of the job finished, yet there was more work to be done. A second grant was awarded for $10,000 and the work was completed. Permission from the USDA Forest Service (USFS) was granted to Fall River Estates to create an eleven-acre buffer on its federal lands bordering the subdivision. The community has also been working with the neighboring Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Fall River Fish Hatchery on their property bordering Fall River Estates, as well. Four years, $25,000 of grant funding, and thousands of community volunteer hours and dollars later, Fall River Estates is not only defendable - it’s a safety zone.

In December of 2004, Fall River Estates received its Firewise Communities/USA designation---the first in Oregon.

The process from the neighborhood perspective

From Aileen Winge, Fall River Estates Home Owner Association Project Coordinator:

“ Initially the funds were intended to help clear 26 lots, which bordered government land. We realized as the project evolved that this small buffer wan not enough to ensure our safety and that we needed to clear the entire neighborhoods. There were between 55 and 60 vacant lots which had never been treated and they presented quite a challenge. Most of the owners lived a distance from Bend which made it difficult, and in some cases impossible, for them to participate in the work on their own lot. Along with permission to begin clearing the lots, these absentee owners were also requested to send funds, which almost everyone did.

We tried to utilize the resources in our area in order to maximize use of the funds. For example, the Sunriver Rotary Club, which provides firewood to elderly residents of the area each year, came and removed dead and down trees from some of the lots. In return for the firewood they piled the limbs and other debris in safe burn piles. In addition, the local LaPine 4-H group needed to earn some money for equipment and with their parents cleared a one-acre lot for us. Other neighbors were also allowed to take firewood in return for their labor.

We were able to stretch our dollars even further by breaking down the work on each lot. The chain saw work was undoubtedly the most expensive and the most dangerous; only well-trained adults were permitted to do this work. These workers would proceed through the lot with the chain saw, cutting and limbing as they went. When they finished our “best crews,” consisting of youngsters aged 8 – 12, went to work. There were about eight or nine of them altogether and they did a terrific job of piling limbs at the side of the property ready for the chipper and in making safe burn piles. Because of age and safety concerns, these children were supervised at all times; they did not work with or around tools of any kind. Another group of about eight teenagers, however, used Pulaskis and shovels tackling bitterbrush. Backbreaking work for sure, and they managed to clear and pile acres of it for burning.

Our fire abatement project was supported by the entire neighborhood and nearly every single person put in numerous volunteer hours, not just on their own lots but on their neighbors’ as well. Neighborhood crews also came out in two-hour shifts to assist the ODF employees when they came with the chipper. The ODF crew actually operated the equipment and these volunteers helped speed up the process by passing the logs and limbs to them.

We were particularly lucky to have Mr. Brett Cousellor, a young full-time resident in our neighborhood, who contributed many hours of labor, working alone, to our project. His energy and skill with a chain saw was impressive and his dedication an inspiration to all. Another neighbor, Mr. Neal Ehlen, took on the responsibility of ensuring that all the chain saws were sharpened and in good repair. The final cleanup on all the lots was done by volunteers. The burning process was considered too important to be left to others so it was handled by the volunteers who monitored the fires carefully. Nearly everyone took turns checking the fires to assure there would be no flare-ups.

Our fire abatement project had a wonderfully unifying effect on our neighborhood. Volunteerism has always been alive and well in the Fall River Estates, but this time it included everyone --- youngsters, teenagers and senior citizens. What seemed in 2001 to be an impossible task has been accomplished. We are all very proud of our effort.

During the spring and summer of 2005, the Fall River homeowners continued work on their own properties, removing dead trees, trimming grass and limbs and doing general cleanup to improve our fire safety. One of the homes which rated “yellow” during the assessment process had the shake roof removed and a metal one installed. That leaves only one home with a shake roof and plans are in place for a remodel in the spring of 2006 with a metal roof a priority.

With funding from the homeowners association, the youngsters in the neighborhood, ages 10 through 18, worked about 180 hours during the summer clearing the heavy bitterbrush from the 100’ buffer surrounding part of the Estates. This buffer is on USFS land and was cleared of dead and downed trees in 2004 by the USFS staff with assistance from our neighbors. Groups of neighbors have been involved in numerous small projects. In the spring of 2005, ODFW hatchery employees and a group of neighbors removed dead and downed trees within the area bordering Fall River Estates. The level of cooperation between our neighborhood, Phil McGee and his staff could not be better.”

Fall RiverThe process from the Oregon Department of Forestry perspective

Using the fuels reduction standards provided by the Oregon Forestland Urban Interface Fire Protection Act of 1997 home assessments were completed on 125 lots by the ODF and the LaPine Rural Fire Protection District. The Fall River community specifically wanted 100% of the subdivision cleared to meet their grant requirements which exceeded the Oregon Forestland Urban Interface Fire Protection Act of 1997 standards. This intent was also spelled out in the Upper Deschutes River Natural Resources Coalition Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

Through grant funding and volunteer hours 124 resident lots completed the recommended tasks, meeting or exceeding the requirements. Grant funding was spent on chain saws, chipping, and some contract work while residents held several workdays volunteering their time and their own funds.

Thanks to funding from the first grant, 26 perimeter lots (bordering federal lands) were going to be treated. Shortly after the work began, the HOA decided to address all lots within its boundaries. Therefore, another letter was sent to each landowner within the HOA offering options to: A. Do the clean-up themselves or B. Pay the HOA to do the work for them. All the while the residents had permission to clear a 100’ buffer on BLM land and 11 acres of USFS land bordering the subdivision. Collaboration continues with both organizations and ODF&W for a buffer zone on their lands.

Residents piled debris and the ODF, through grant funding, and with the help of the Student Conservation Association chipped the majority of the slash.

Now that the residents in the Fall River Estates community meet or exceed the required defensible space standards, the Fall River HOA is working with residents by notifying them regarding the maintenance of their defensible space and will continue to renew its Firewise Communities/USA status.

Saturday October 23, 2004, the Deschutes County Commissioners, along with the ODF, the LaPine Rural Fire Protection District, the USDI BLM, and the USFS honored Fall River Estates for its efforts in hazardous fuels reduction---making the community safer and demonstrating an outstanding example of community involvement and cooperation. At this presentation, two of the County Commissioners, Dennis Luke and Michael Daly, awarded Fall River Estates with $4,000.

On Saturday May 28, 2005. Fall River Estates received its Firewise Community USA award along with a new fire danger rating sign provided with National Fire Plan Grant Funding.

Bill Swanson, Fall River Estates HOA Chair, was invited by Resource Innovations to speak to Clackamas County Fire Districts about the work Fall River Estates had done. Bill Swanson and Christy Donham from ODF appeared on the Kristi Miller show, Good Morning Central Oregon, to discuss the work Fall River Estates has accomplished.

This project would never have been completed without the dedicated efforts of Fall River Estates community members Aileen Winge, Bill Swanson, and Brett Councellor; all the Fall River Estates residents and various volunteers.

Thanks also goes to ODF Stewardship Forester Stu Otto, ODF Natural Resource Specialist Elden Ward, ODF Assistant Unit Forester Pat Ryan, ODF Interface Specialist Tom Andrade, ODF Fire Prevention Specialist Christy Donham, ODF Forest Officers Steve Hurt and Greg Hart, the Student Conservation Association, LaPine RFPD Fire Chief Jim Gustafson, Deschutes County Commissioners, Deschutes County Forester Joe Stutler, USFS Grant Administrator Jon Stewart, BLM Fuels Specialist Dennis Fiore, and Phil McGee with ODFW Fall River Fish Hatchery.