Fired Up Over Fire Preparedness
By MAYMI PRESTON-DONAHUE, TRT Contributing Writer
The sun dawned on a busy work crew on Lower Camp Creek road on May 4. It shined on a busy neighborhood in Orleans, a community that just last summer was nearly destroyed by the so-called “Dance Fire.”
A combination of volunteer efforts, quick thinking on the part of locals, the important efforts of wildland firefighters, and the safely cleared out yard of the first house on the row helped to save this first batch of houses from near destruction.
Last year’s fire served as a reminder of just how destructive a fire can be and how important fire prevention and preparedness is in a forest community. It also was an enlightening example of how a community can come together to help one another.
During those harrowing first few days at the start of last years fire, neighbors fought flames and help cut down trees around other neighbors’ homes while others stayed up all night to prepare food for those evacuated from their homes and for the firefighters. Still other Orleans citizens found it in themselves to donate items, hold charity events, to take families into their homes, and the list goes on.
The Orleans Volunteer Fire Department, a small group of vigilant community members, were at the forefront of this great citizen endeavor during the fire. After the last embers had been swept away in the fall, they applied for and received a Humboldt County Title 3 $5,000 Firewise Grand Prize grant from the National Fire Protection Association funded by State Farm Insurance.
This grant asks recipients to educate their communities about the importance of fire preparedness with educational activities and projects. Main points of the fire preparedness education include: how people need to clean up junk prior to doing fuels reduction, what it means to be a responsible and motivated landowner, and how an overwhelming project can be tackled by a large group of people.
The newly created Firewise Committee (made up of the Orleans Volunteer Fire Department, The Orleans/Somes Bar Firewise Council, the Karuk Tribe, and the Mid Klamath Watershed Council) wanted an initial community project to jumpstart their goals. They chose to work on clearing out a defensible space for a residence on Lower Camp Creek road for a number of reasons. First, this was a home right next to where last years fire had begun. Also, this was a home that had not been lived in for many years. Over the years it had become brushed over, cluttered, and in need of a lot of attention. If the fire had reached a home in such a condition, the fire story of last year could have been very different. And the owner of the home, Alme Allen, had grown up in the area, had family in the area, wanted to permanently return someday, and it was a place that had been in his family for years. He was an invested community member who wanted to see this place made safe and clear for his home community. With permission from Allen, a date was set for May 3-4 to start the clear up with a modest budget and a whole lot of the volunteer spirit that Orleans is becoming known for.
On the days of the clean up, a number of volunteers showed up to help with the effort. Volunteers ranged from members of the neighborhood, Firewise committee members, other locals, and many family friends of the Allens. Notably, local business owner Tommy Horn volunteered his own equipment to help load and haul away refuse from the site.
“It’s been just a great community and volunteer effort,” said project coordinator Nancy Bailey, “It has been just a positive experience.”
This project is a part of a series of projects and activities being accomplished this spring and summer by the Firewise committee, including highlighting Fire Preparedness at the Orleans Old Timer’s Parade and Picnic on Father’s Day.