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Rimrock West leverages resources to reduce wildfire risk
Rod Nichols, 503-945-7425, rnichols@odf.state.or.us
The residents of Rimrock West on the north side of Bend knew they had a problem: dense stands of juniper and pine intermingled with thick brush and grass, and much of the vegetation lay close to homes. So bad was the wildfire hazard that a local college professor brought his students to the 43-home community to show them first-hand what an urban-forest interface zone at extremely high risk of fire looks like.
Lacking the technical expertise to correct the situation, the community turned to local, state and federal fire agencies. In collaboration with Bend Fire and Rescue and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Oregon Department of Forestry’s (ODF) Stu Otto and Elden Ward conducted an assessment of every property in the community for wildfire risk. They provided a detailed report on the risks they found and offered specifics on how to reduce them.
Rimrock homeowners promptly took action. They:  
  • Stepped up yard maintenance to interrupt the fuel pathway that could enable a wildfire to reach structures
  • Followed the free Firewise Communities USA program tips on modifying their homes and landscaping to make them less vulnerable to ignition from flying embers or a flame front   

“Ninety-one percent of Rimrock West properties now meet Firewise standards,” said Stephen Clark, president of the Rimrock Homeowners’ Association. “By any standard, this collaborative effort between the Oregon Department of Forestry, Bend Fire and Rescue, BLM and our homeowners has been hugely successful.”
A fire prevention makeover on the scale that Rimrock West achieved requires funding as well as hard work. During their consultation, Otto and Ward encouraged the association to apply for Firewise Community status and a National Fire Plan $5,000 matching grant. The association will receive the grant at its annual meeting in March.
Like most central Oregonians, the residents of Rimrock West didn’t need a lecture on the threat posed by wildfire. Every year the association and many property owners had worked to reduce fuel loads by raking up pine needles and clearing dead brush. But in the high-fire environment east of the Cascades, these actions weren’t enough. In seeking assistance from the fire agencies, the community brought to bear expertise in wildland and structural fire prevention that substantially lowered the fire risk to lives and property.
Because a portion of the fuel-reduction work was slated for community commons land along the Deschutes River, a designated scenic waterway, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department was asked to review the plans. To minimize impact to the stream, volunteers did all of the brush removal work by hand.
“This project was a remarkable effort by the residents of Rimrock West,” Otto said. “They took the advice we gave to the association’s Fuels and Fire committee and went after it. These folks are real go-getters.” 
More information on Firewise and how to become a Firewise Community can be obtained from Kristin Babbs, ODF, 503-945-7444, kbabbs@odf.state.or.us, and the Firewise website, www.firewise.org/Communities.aspx.