LOSTINE, Ore. — The Lostine Canyon neighborhood has become northeast Oregon’s first nationally recognized “Firewise” community, an event that could lead to more efforts to prevent or combat wildfires in Wallowa County.
Firewise communities are a part of a program that teaches people how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourages neighbors to work together and take action now to prevent future losses.
The approximately 110 properties with 120 structures make up about 9,600 acres south of Lostine, a community of about 200 people in the valley between the towns of Wallowa and Enterprise, the county seat. About 45 individuals are participating in the community, according to Mike Eng, the leader of the Lostine Canyon Firewise Committee.
On Friday, Oct. 11, at the Lostine Wildlife Area the Firewire groups and Commissioner Susan Roberts met to dedicate signs along the road recognizing the Firewise community. Roberts expressed hopes that Lostine’s actions will be an example to other communities in the county.
“Hopefully, your accomplishment will serve to inspire other communities to take important and necessary steps to improve their protection from the potentially catastrophic risks of wildfire,” Roberts said.
Eng emphasized the necessity for the program.
“We live in an extreme fire-risk area and we have to learn to adapt to that,” he said. “There’s not much we can do about changing the weather, changing the terrain, changing the land ownership and some of the ways it’s managed.”
Lostine Canyon residents interested in establishing a Firewise Community first met in April 2018. Since then, neighbors in the Lostine Canyon have been working on becoming better informed about how to prevent wildfire from destroying their homes and their community, how to respond in the inevitable event of a wildfire in the Lostine Canyon and how to recover after a wildfire passes through their community.
Residents have been creating “fire safe” perimeters around their homes, removing closely spaced and insect-damaged trees and trimming low-hanging branches. They have taken advantage of offers by foresters Tim Cudmore and Eric Carlson, of the Oregon Department of Forestry, to help identify diseased and insect-infested trees to help reduce fuel loads around their homes, while also preserving privacy and wildlife habitat.
They have also taken advantage of free exterior home inspections by one of their neighbors, Gary Willis, a former Hood River, Ore., fire chief, to learn what they can do to better fireproof the exterior of their homes.
“Being informed that you live in an area with an ‘extreme’ fire risk, it shifts your thinking from, ‘I’ll reduce my fuel load one of these years to I need to do it this year,’” canyon resident Fred Brockman said.
ODF forester Matt Howard emphasized the inevitability of another wildfire in the area.
“I don’t know if it’s ironic or what, but we’re standing in a fire spot from about 50 years ago,” he said. “It started down in the flat here and with the north wind went up the canyon. So that’s within this generation. The fact that you folks were collective enough and had enough gumption to stick with it through this process to become nationally recognized, it’s a very big deal. It’s something, I think, you should be very proud of.”
Howard hopes the Lostine community will serve as an example for others in the county. He expects the ODF and Wallowa Resources, a local natural resources nonprofit, to begin work in the spring organizing more communities in such places as Wallowa Lake and Hurricane Creek.
“You folks are a model for other communities in the future and your collective experiences here are going to help other communities decide whether they want to pursue being Firewise-recognized or not,” he said.