LYONS, Ore. (KOIN) — When the Beachie Creek Fire raced through the Santiam Canyon, the inferno consumed timber, homes, and outbuildings, but it hardly burned Larry Tucker’s property.
“You’ll notice that the trees are blackened over here,” Tucker said as he gestured across the fence line to his neighbor’s property, “and over here up high, there may be a few branches on this side of the tree that are scorched, but they’re green!” he said, pointing up at his own trees.
In 2019, Tucker noticed an Oregon Department of Forestry flier around town advertising a ladder fuels mitigation program and grant money to help homeowners create defensible space.
Tucker called the number listed and a couple of days later, an ODF employee came out to his property and assessed what needed to be done to help protect his home from a potential wildfire. Tucker said his wife had cleared overgrown brush from half their 20-acre property, but there was still another 8 acres Tucker wanted to tackle.
ODF noted what area he wanted to clear and what needed to be done. They told him he had a year to complete it and that grant money would fund $500 an acre to help him do it.
Tucker spent 29 years working as a firefighter and knew there were hazards on his property he needed to address. He said the funding was the motivation he needed to tackle the overgrown trees and blackberry vines that towered over his head. Before the grant, the Tuckers were taking money out of their living expenses to do the work.
By July 2020, the work was done, just two months before the Beachie Creek Fire burned through Lyons.
“I never really thought that it would come from the east, you know. Fires in Eastern Oregon, they always stay over there and the big forest fires, they’re always away from us. We’re too close to the city,” Tucker said. “Well, that wasn’t the case in 2020.”
Legislators are working on ways to protect communities in places known as the wildland-urban interface, which are communities located close to forested areas. However, ODF says property owners need to take steps themselves to protect their homes.
That’s why they want people to take advantage of the grant money.
“There’s only so much the government can do,” said Jenna Trentadue, national fire plan coordinator for ODF. “If you’re not invested in protecting yourself, then you might be the one that loses your home and we don’t want that.”
Trentadue said every year ODF gets about $3 million in fuel mitigation grants to use throughout the state. She said ODF offices apply for the grants to help fund mitigation, education, and outreach in high-priority areas to reduce the risk of fire.
Larry Tucker used funds from the Westen States Fire Managers Grant. Anyone interested in using grant money to support fire mitigation efforts should contact their local ODF office to see what is available.
For people who want to first examine what they might need to improve on their property, Trentadue recommends they look into Firewise USA, an educational outreach program. She said Firewise USA is geared toward communities and there are several resources online with information on how to prepare a home for a fire and how to better protect it.
ODF is also open to giving landowners advice.
“We are always, always available to help do technical expert advice for landowners. So, even if we don’t have funding in your area and you’re interested, just feel free to reach out to us and we’d be happy to come out and take a look at your property,” Trentadue said.
Trentadue stressed that creating defensible space around a home does not guarantee it will survive a fire, but it should improve its chances.
“When you’re doing this kind of mitigation, you’re significantly lowering your risk and you’re protecting your neighbors,” she said.
For Tucker, the work and time he committed to it paid off.
“I’ve always said that fire’s the most non-discriminating thing there is,” Tucker said. “All it knows is do you know how to handle it and keep it from working? We got to handle it by doing this work on the land and that’s why our house still stood.”
For more information on fire prevention and grant opportunities, visit the Oregon Department of Forestry’s website. More information on Firewise USA is available on the National Fire Protection Association’s website.