A couple of plans that guide wildfire response in outlying parts of Deschutes County are getting a revamp, one that fire experts hope will make them more accessible for residents.

On Wednesday, the Deschutes County Commission approved updates to two community wildfire protection plans, one that covers land extending south of Sunriver, and another that covers patchwork areas from Hampton, about 60 miles southeast of Bend, to the Cascade Lakes.

In addition to providing new risk assessments based on recent forest thinning projects and wildfires in each area, the updates streamline designations for at-risk areas and create a simplified, illustrated version of the plan with steps residents can take to reduce their risk of wildfire. Alison Green, program coordinator with Project Wildfire, a Deschutes County wildfire mitigation organization, said the goal is to make complicated, dense documents easier to read and act upon.

“(Residents) kind of glaze over when I hand them a binder with 100 pages,” Green said.

“Nine times out of 10, the question is: What can I do to protect my family?”

The federal Healthy Forest Restoration Act, which was signed into law in 2003, mandates that communities threatened by wildfire create community wildfire protection plans, which would identify risks to particular communities, and provide a road map according to those communities.

Each of the two plans that were updated this week are on their third revision. The Upper Deschutes plan, which covers portions of south Deschutes County beginning at Sunriver’s southern boundary, was established in 2005 through activity from local residents, Green said. After other Deschutes County communities established their own plans, the East-West Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which covers a hodgepodge of regions uncovered by other plans, was established two years later.

Today, Green said every acre of Deschutes County is covered by a community plan. Additionally, they’re designed to be updated every five years in order to incorporate data from recent wildfires and forest-­thinning projects in the area.

“These aren’t (documents) that hold down bookshelves; these are ones that we come back and we revisit,” Green said during the meeting.

While other fire-prone parts of the country have community plans, Green said most only have a single plan that covers an entire area. Having seven hyper-local plans allows individual communities in Deschutes County to take a more active role in shaping the plans, Green said.

Also, she said the plans play a critical role in helping communities secure federal grants aimed at funding controlled burns and other fire mitigation measures on private and locally owned land.

Deschutes County Forester Ed Keith said well over $10 million has been spent by a variety of local fire management agencies. Keith pointed to a long-term interagency thinning project near La Pine, which received $1.7 million this year, as evidence of the plans’ success.

The East-West plan will be simplified to prioritize three areas: Cascade Lakes, Alfalfa and the Brothers-Hampton area. This is in sharp contrast to the prior plan, which Keith said had more than 25 rating areas, which made it hard for residents and fire managers alike to prioritize their response.

“We were kind of scratching our heads,” Keith said.

Along the same lines, the Upper Deschutes plan update will simplify protection boundaries. Also, for the first time, Project Wildfire will produce seven- to eight-page, illustrated versions of the plan that highlight steps individual residents can take to be safer in the face of fires. The goal, Green said, is to provide residents with easy-to-digest information without forcing them to read through the full document. The documents will be available through Project Wildfire’s website at some point in January.

With deadly wildfires in California grabbing headlines over the last several years, Green said she had heard from more residents interested in protecting their properties. Providing more accessible information is one path toward helping people take agency over the situation.

“It’s eye-opening; it’s devastating, but people need to turn that into empowerment,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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