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Grant Could Reduce Danger Of Bluff Fires

Bingen and White Salmon seek money from federal program.

A federal grant geared to reduce fire danger may help Bingen and White Salmon residents protect their homes and property.

According to White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen, Bingen and White Salmon will be applying for a grant that could bring as much as $100,000 to help reduce the chance of wildfires. Klickitat County is also likely to sign on to the application.

The program, called the National Fire Plan Program, is focused on places where urban and wild areas come together, and where the greatest risk of property destruction is.

A total of $4 million is being distributed to communities in Oregon and Washington to address this concern.

"The program is designed around mitigating the damage fire can do," said Holen. "This problem needs to be dealt with on a community basis. We'll work with Bingen and the county to put together a plan for the bluff, from Alt. 141 to the eastern Bingen city limits."

Holen said reducing fuels and educating residents about how to prevent or reduce the intensity of fires is vital.

"The plan is to remove fuel from the bluff areas," Holen said. "The question is, how does one do that?"

Holen added that perhaps there is a natural way to reduce the underbrush through the area.

"I still think goats are the best way, but I haven't got any takers on that," he joked.

A demonstration project under consideration would clear underbrush from areas along local highways.

"We could make certain there is a wide swath of low-fuel areas adjacent to the north side of State Route 14, in case some idiot throws out a cigarette," Holen said. "It's relatively simple to do, and moving fuel away from the highway is a good first step."

Holen added that some people were inadvertently adding to the fire danger by dumping yard debris over the bluff.

"We need to encourage people to not throw grass clippings and leaves over the bluff," Holen explained. "That just adds to the fuel load and could come back to burn them."

According to Holen, the community has a strong chance to win the grant money, because multiple jurisdictions are expected to be involved in the application.

There is no matching fund requirement to obtain the grant, so Holen sees the opportunity as having "no downside."

"This is an opportunity to do something important for citizens of the area," Holen said.

If the grant is awarded, work could begin very early in 2004, in time to have an impact on next year's fire season.

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