Interagency Cooperation Garners National Recognition

Keno Rural Fire Protection District

The Keno Rural Fire Protection District in Oregon, one of more than 100 communities in Washington and Oregon fortified by $15 million in National Fire Plan grants from 2001 to 2003, has gone door-to-door to 6,000 of its residents with wildfire preparedness materials, identifying simple steps for homeowners to reduce risks from a catastrophic wildfire.

A Keno fire crew helped residents assess wildfire risk around their homes and helped clear roofs and gutters of pine needles, remove dead limbs from trees and shrubs, cut low-hanging branches on trees to prevent a ground fire from climbing into the upper branches, and move woodpiles and other flammable materials at least 30 feet away from buildings.

The grant enabled the fire district to purchase and distribute smoke detectors and easy-to-read address signs for houses, and fire crews taught residents basic fire evacuation techniques. All of the information was logged into a GIS database so that the info is available for maps that assist in emergency response.

The Keno fire district also consulted with U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fuels specialists to develop a fire plan that looks at vegetation types, topography and fuel loading and provides guidelines for fire hazard reduction.

Communities in the west have grappled with wildfires destroying homes - even entire towns - for more than 100 years. But homes where fire hazards are reduced have dramatically better chances of surviving a wildfire. With 80 percent of the Keno district's 44-square-miles being in a wildland urban interface zone - where homes and other human development meet or intermingle with undeveloped land - fire education and fuels reduction are critical to long-term fire management.

Controlling the severity of wildland urban interface fires is a high priority in the Department of the Interior's National Fire Plan due to the increasing cost of fighting unwanted fires, as well as the increasing amount of private property damage that such fires cause. Fire suppression alone is not the solution, particularly in Keno's ponderosa and other conifer forests, juniper stands and heavy accumulations of brush. Hazardous fuels reduction is needed in these areas to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires.

The Pacific Northwest Interagency Community Assistance Grant Team, including Pacific Regional Fire Management Coordinator Pam Ensley and Regional Wildlife Urban Interface Coordinator Bruce Babb, received a National Fire Plan Award for excellence in community assistance in 2003 for creating one-stop shopping for grant applicants, streamlining the process in order to get dollars into a community sooner rather than later.

The interagency team, which includes the Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs, created a streamlined process that requires only one application and ensures that the money quickly and efficiently reaches the identified wildland urban interface communities to help them become wildfire resistant.

The Fish and Wildlife Service administered the Keno grant because the fire district abuts Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon and Keno's fire education and fuels reduction project complemented the similar activities on the refuge. The Klamath Basin Refuge Complex fire crew provided technical assistance to the community and the fire district was able to use contractors at reduced cost because the contractors already were working in the area.

Ensley and Babb each have 27 years of experience working as fire program managers for a variety of land management agencies. Between them they have performed nearly every job in fire management during their careers.

"Keno is a model in fuels management planning and fuels reduction," said Ensley. "Thanks to National Fire Plan funding, Keno is now prepared for the long term. The community has informed homeowners, a scientifically-based risk reduction program and initial attack capabilities."

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fire crews help trim trees in residential areas of Keno, Oregon to help reduce wildfire risk to homes. (USFWS)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fire crews help trim trees in residential areas of Keno, Oregon to help
reduce wildfire risk to homes. (USFWS)

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