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Eagle Trace is Medford's first Firewise community

Bob Roe has spent the past 24 summers on the slopes of Roxy Ann Peak, dodging the dangers of wildfires that are an ever-present threat for this steep, brushy hillside cloaked in neighborhoods like his Eagle Trace subdivision.

The worst came when the 2009 Deer Ridge fire burned 633 acres about a half-mile from the subdivision one hot and windy afternoon like many along this slope of East Medford more than 4 miles from downtown.

"We've had several close calls," Roe says. "We're always been very interested in fire up here, this whole area."

Summer No. 25 could be a bit safer for Roe and the other 231 other homeowners in 78-acre Eagle Trace, which this week became the city of Medford's first official Firewise community, joining similar communities in Ashland, Eagle Point and elsewhere across the country.

Under the arm of the community homeowners' association that Roe heads, neighborhood properties get their individual and collective wildfire threats analyzed and a game plan is developed to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire.

"It's really a way for neighbors to influence neighbors to make their area less susceptible to widlfire," says Fire Marshal Greg Kleinberg of Medford Fire-Rescue, which aided in gaining the designation.

"We're hoping this will convince others to go down this path," Kleinberg says.

Firewise is a national program put together by the National Fire Protection Association. So far it has empowered more than 1,200 communities like Eagle Trace to collectively reduce their risk of catastrophic loss from wildfire.

Communities must form a Firewise board or committee or use their existing homeowners' association. The neighborhood gets a written wildfire risk assessment from the city fire department or the Oregon Department of Forestry and then creates an action plan based on that assessment.

Each homeowner invests at least $2 a year toward that action plan and the neighborhood conducts at least one Firewise Day event annually.

The designations are renewed annually by filing updates on activities, according to the NFPA.

The city of Ashland began working with its first Firewise neighborhood designation in 2010 just before the Oak Knoll fire roared through town one summer afternoon, destroying 11 homes.

"Interest was greatly accelerated by the fire," Ashland Fire & Rescue Capt. Chris Chambers says. "Unfortunately, disaster is often the great motivator."

That city now has 25 Firewise neighborhoods ranging in size from three homes to hundreds, Chambers says.

Roe spearheaded the Eagle Trace effort after he heard about it last year from Medford Fire-Rescue.

They organized and held a neighborhood Firewise Day in March, with homeowners cutting limbs and pulling bushes that they left in the street for a chipper rented with their Firewise dues to chip and haul away their debris.

For Roe, however, the work was somewhat light. He trimmed low-hanging branches from his blue spruce and Leyland cypress trees and hauled away 24 years' worth of bark around his house, replacing it with large gravels.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Bob Roe walks through his backyard on Friday. Roe's neighborhood is Medford's first official Firewise community. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Bob Roe lined his home with gravel to help protect his property from wildfire. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch