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Education by fire: SWCD installs fire signs

The Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is collaborating with other agencies to install interpretive fire signs along Bear Creek Greenway riparian corridor, where 100-plus acres were burned in Oregon’s 2018 Peninger Fire.

The signs will provide detailed information about the fire, wildland ecology, native and invasive species, pollinators, riparian habitat, fire safety, the coho salmon life cycle, and what the district and other agencies have done to recover.

“A lot of times with wildfire, we think, ‘Oh, it happens in the forest. If you’re in an urban setting, in a park, you don’t have to worry about it,’ but that’s not the game anymore,” Jackson SWCD Education and Outreach Coordinator Karelia Ver Eecke said.

Within eight weeks of the fire, which decimated an urban interface area, a coalition formed with agencies including Jackson SWCD, the city of Central Point, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the fire district. Restoration efforts, including erosion control, began by fall with native pollinator plantings following. The group also wanted to get in front of misinformation and fear, Ver Eecke said. The interpretive signs developed from there.

Initially planned for March, project partners hope to begin installation of the $4,000 project this August. The project will span roughly two miles.

“As a conservation district, a lot of times people come to us to get the information,” Ver Eecke said. “We’re working more often than not in more rural residential or rural properties, so it’s more if you’re living near a forest. But when you’re in an urban environment, fire can take them totally by surprise.”

“Because the signs are going to be hosted at an actual fire site, it holds more relevancy, because everyone here in our communities has been affected by fires the last two seasons,” she said.

The signs will be printed in English and Spanish. Two will be located on the fire site about 100 to 200 meters apart and will include information about the fire, invasive species, the hot season, the wildland urban interface and ways to reduce the risk of wildfire around homes. Two more will be placed near the campgrounds and the Jackson County Expo, and another will be located on land lab property at a school.

Already, Ver Eecke has held several educational sessions on-site with a total of more than 500 students. About a dozen children from each of the eight sessions had been evacuated during the Peninger Fire. Many stepped onto the site with trepidation, but left talking about overgrowth, non-native plant contribution to fires. and ways they might mitigate fires around their own homes.

“There are really easy behavioral changes that can have a big impact on reducing fire danger,” Ver Eecke said. “This fire scared a lot of people, but it also has offered an opportunity for education. So it’s relevant, it’s timely, and it’s reaching an audience we don’t often get through our regular channels.”

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