Merlin named top community at risk for wildfire impacts

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A recent study commissioned by the U.S. Forest Service ranks Merlin as the the number one community in Oregon where residents are most exposed to the threat of fire.

The study identifies Merlin as having 4,628 housing units exposed to wildfire. That's a lower figure than larger communities like Grants Pass, but the small community of Merlin has a high risk of those structures actually burning.

Monday evening, community members met with local agencies to learn what they could do to better prepare themselves for the upcoming fire season.

"We're really behind the ball, and the fact of the matter is is there are things individuals can do to protect their homes their properties and of course their lives," Janet Lancaster, a Merlin resident and local fire safety activist said.

Lancaster moved to Merlin last June, a month before the majority of last year's major wildfires began.

"We all saw the picture of Paradise," Lancaster said. "And now granted paradise has a perfect storm like in Santa Rosa and we saw the fire down in Redding. I don't want that to happen to me, I don't want it to happen to my neighbors, and I don't want it to happen here in southern Oregon."

This year she's participating in Firewise, a program that helps residents make their property more fire resistant, and she encourages others to do the same.

The Oregon Department of Forestry administers that program and encourage residents not to wait until fire season.

"In the late spring early summertime, that's not the time to be doing fire prevention projects. Now's the time to tackle those larger projects," ODF's Firewise Coordinator Tyler Averyt said.

These projects include creating defensible space by clearing flammable debris, focusing on the area right around your home and moving outward.

Also important - ensure there's enough space for an emergency vehicle to get in your driveway

"I think people are more aware but it takes them being proactive to make a difference in their neighborhood or community," Averyt said.

The study identifies substantial room for improvement, but as the season approaches, it will be up to residents to take charge of their properties and defy the numbers laid out by the forest services report.

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