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Pine Creek

Tucked in the heart of the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon, Grant County has achieved a significant milestone with creation of eastern Oregon’s first Firewise Community in the greater Pine Creek area. Grant County is 4529 square miles and has a population of about 7300 - or an average of 1.6 people per square mile – a density described as “frontier” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  The county is characterized by a widely scattered population with a diverse culture.  Pine CreekLong time families whose ancestors homesteaded the area are mixed with an influx of previously urban residents, many of whom are absentee landowners and retirees. Emergency services are limited and staffed almost exclusively by volunteers.  Bringing individuals and neighbors together to engage with Firewise in a county where independence is prized and self-reliance is the creed has been challenging indeed!

Grant County received a significant amount of funding in 2009 through the Secure Rural Schools program to update the Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) and to help homeowners implement Firewise Communities throughout the county. The county submitted a request for proposals and subsequently contracted with Irene Jerome a forester and local county resident. “I really struggled with how to make the Firewise model work in Grant County” said Irene “since the program lends itself better to subdivisions and homeowner associations.” During the CWPP revision process Irene met with homeowners throughout the county and learned about their “communities” to come up with some means of identifying areas that would be cohesive enough for a Firewise Community.  “Although there really aren’t any rules to it, our population is so sparse and so scattered it is difficult to form a group that can fulfill the few small steps necessary to get the Firewise recognition” Jerome continued. The Pine Creek area became a natural place to start due to the community interest from the beginning.  Howard Gieger, a retired arson investigator from the insurance industry, has led the charge and is the chair of the Pine Creek Firewise board.  “Without Howard it never would have happened” Irene says. 

The Pine Creek Firewise Community is unique in many ways. The Prairie City Rural provides structural fire protection in the north portions of the community while the south portion of the community has wildland fire protection only.  The topography, vegetation, aspect and fuel types vary dramatically from north to south as the terrain transitions from the valley bottom up into the Strawberry Mountains.  About 55 dwellings, a third of those owned by absentees, are present in the Pine Creek Firewise community.

Pine CreekDuring the summer of 2013 some of the residents began discussing the idea of forming a Firewise Community. The following February the Pine Creek residents decided to become Firewise, formed a Firewise board and made plans for the future building of their Firewise Community! A spring Firewise Day was held on May 3, National Wildfire preparedness day and neighbors joined together to assist an elderly couple in reducing fuel around their home.  The feeling of accomplishment and camaraderie that working together toward a common goal brought to the group has them hooked!

A formal dedication was held on September 26 to celebrate the achievement.  The turnout was tremendous and included Kirby Garrett from Congressman Greg Walden’s office, Representative Cliff Bentz, County Commissioner Chris Labhart, and representatives from the Oregon State Fire Marshall’s office, the Grant County Fire Defense Board, the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Malheur National Forest.  Thanks to the pioneers on Pine Creek the opportunities for additional Firewise Communities in Grant County has been greatly increased!