Merkley: Feds to close wildfire fighting centers

Wildfires

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Sen. Jeff Merkley said the federal government is considering shutting down an organization that helps fight wildfires — just as wildfire season is ramping up.

The Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers was one of the first groups to respond to the Eagle Creek Fire in 2017. The CCC contributed more than 400,000 hours of fire support in 2018.

The Job Corps program at the Timberlake Center provides at-risk youth between 16-24 with job training and placement, as well as getting their high school diplomas. Currently there are 180 students there.

Brian Hickman works as a leader at Timberlake but was once one of the at-risk youth in the program.

“We take students on camp crews to support firefighters and take our firefighters out to do prescribed burns and line firefighting,” he said.

During wildfire season the students are often involved at the fires putting together the equipment for firefighters to quickly lay miles of hose lines. It’s a critical support effort.

Bu the head of the Forest Service told staff the center in the Mount Hood National Forest would be closing in a few months. It also means the staff will lose their jobs.

“This is really horrific,” Merkley said. “There was no consulting with the delegation, no evaluation why this would take place.”

The change comes at a time of proposed cuts to the Forest Service budget. 

The Estacada center is among 9 around the country slated to close. The others are: Anaconda CCC in Anaconda, Montana; Blackwell CCC in Laona, Wisconsin; Cass CCC in Ozark, Arkansas; Flatwoods CCC in Coeburn, Virginia; Fort Simcoe CCC in White Swan, Washington; Frenchburg CCC in Frenchburg, Kentucky; Oconaluftee CCC in Cherokee, North Carolina; and Pine Knot CCC in Pine Knot, Kentucky.

Merkley said he’s working with a bipartisan group of senators to try and block this from happening.

Hickman hopes that will happen as he is forced to look for a new job.

“Timberlake has changed a lot of lives. It changed my life. It’s sad to see it go.”

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