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Fire plan takes shape

Squires Peak. Timbered Rock. Quartz Creek. Hull Mountain. East Evans Creek. Tin Pan Peak.

Randy Iverson can fire off the list of those wildfires and more that have burned thousands of acres in Jackson County, destroying homes and killing one firefighter, since he began fighting fires here 25 years ago this spring.

We have an ongoing situation of extreme fire behavior with both the weather and the fuel loading, said the fire chief for Jackson County Fire District No. 3.

As we add more people to the mix, it gets exaggerated even further, he added. That's the problem we are trying to rally the forces to begin to deal with.

Iverson is the chair of a diverse committee charged with coming up with an integrated fire plan for Jackson County. The two dozen members of the group, which held a workshop Tuesday afternoon in Talent, represent everyone from private citizens to watershed councils, from the Oregon Department of Forestry to Uncle Sam.

— The effort is part of the National Fire Plan to reduce the wildfire threat in the urban/wildland interface.

We need to get a realistic assessment of what the problem is and what we can do to mitigate it, Iverson said. It is not a quick fix. We need to come up with an awareness level and mitigation level that is long-term.

It's a problem that will not go away in Jackson County, he warned. There needs to be a continuous coordination effort so that when there is a problem we can do a little better job.

Ashland resident Neil Benson, a retired U.S. Forest Service fire specialist who is working with the committee, agreed the threat is real.

We have a Mediterranean climate and a lot of the same fuel types as Southern California, he said. And we're in lightning alley here.

Workshop participant Kathy Lynn, representing the University of Oregon's Program for Watershed and Community Health, said the plan will be the result of a collaborative effort.

Lynn has worked for the past 18 months helping Josephine County residents create an integrated fire plan in that county.

There are a lot of requirements for what community fire plans need to look like on paper, but what we're really interested in is how that takes shape in a community and county in terms of collaboration between agencies and organizations, she said.

The bottom line is that the plan must be effective in producing fire protection.

With the continued growth of the communities and increasing development, there is an increasing need for coordinated fire protection activity, she said.

Tuesday's session will be one of many held in the next 18 months as the plan is developed. Public meetings are expected to be held in communities throughout the county during that period.

The plan must be approved by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners before it goes into effect.

Clearly, Jackson County has a huge amount of brush, fire chief Iverson said. We have significant canyon land with a lot of development along roadways and creek drainages.

So we have the interface of buildings and wildlands and timber, he added. And, as we all know in this county, August will be August.

The result is a potentially explosive situation when wildfires rage in the urban interface

No matter what the spring does to us, when fire season hits, it will always be extreme, he said. The only difference from one year to the next is the length of that extreme period.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at