SHADY COVE — Local fire officials are launching a campaign to reduce the risk of disastrous fires in this Upper Rogue River community and are asking for help from residents.

SHADY COVE — Local fire officials are launching a campaign to reduce the risk of disastrous fires in this Upper Rogue River community and are asking for help from residents.

"It's no secret that Shady Cove is in the middle of the forest," said Jenny Hall, Firewise coordinator for Jackson County Fire District No. 4. "Everywhere out here is classified as either high or extreme for fire danger."

Hall was hired by the district in April to coordinate an outreach campaign, with the goal of educating the public about how to protect property from fire — and ultimately certifying the entire town as a Firewise Community.

Funding for the campaign came from Jackson County as part of a Title III grant from the federal Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.

Firewise Communities is a program conducted by the National Fire Protection Association that is designed to help people who live in areas at risk from brush, grass or forest fires.

"If people will participate, it will help them keep their homes and community safer from fire," said District No. 4 Chief Bob Miller.

Miller said the area has been lucky: The largest wildfire near Shady Cove came 10 years ago when the Timbered Rock fire burned through most of the summer months.

Last year, Miller's department responded to more than 1,050 alarms, a record for the district, and this year the trend is showing an ominous rise.

"We're already running 100 alarms over last year," he said, "but we're still in there and able to get things done."

"Wildfires are a natural part of the environment," Hall said. "They are going to occur. It is not a matter of if — it is a matter of when.

"The Firewise Communities vision is that, through homeowner preparedness and community planning, wildfires can occur without catastrophic loss."

To be certified as Firewise, residents come together in a group and begin assessing fire hazards in the neighborhood. Then they formulate an action plan to mitigate the risk.

In 2009, the Oregon Department of Forestry and the local fire district conducted an outreach program that, before funding ran out, was able to get two of Shady Cove's six neighborhoods certified. A map of the neighborhoods is posted online at bit.ly/HAOfJD.

Hall hopes to have the entire city certified, but efforts are being concentrated on a neighborhood in the southwest corner of the city between Rogue River Drive and the Rogue River. She said the neighborhood was a natural choice because "the way they choose to do their landscaping and the choices they made for construction materials are already very much in line with what Firewise recommends."

She said the biggest benefit of the program is getting neighbors working with each other.

"Sure, it's great to get this cute little sign that says you're certified, and it's great to get this piece of paper that says that someone, somewhere, federally, has blessed your area, but the reality is when a fire comes through — or any other disaster strikes — it's you and your neighbors," Hall said.

"Once neighbors start talking to each other and planning together, it doesn't matter what the hazard is. They're all just so much safer."

The first Firewise Community meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 27, in the Edgewater Inn conference room, 7800 Rogue River Drive. ODF fire-prevention specialist Ashley DuBrey will explain the Firewise program and how residents can participate. Miller will explain the fire department's role in the program.

Shady Cove Mayor Ron Holthusen, a resident of a recognized Firewise Community, will discuss the importance of reducing wildfire risk in Shady Cove. He will be joined by Councilman Jim Ulrich, an advocate of the program and a resident of Hall's targeted neighborhood.

"We really want a good turnout," Hall said, "because if some of those key people in a neighborhood come, when they leave, perhaps they'll be able to pique the curiosity of the rest of the town, and we can talk to them about reducing their risk.

"We really want this program to succeed."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.