June 10, 2002 11:00 pm

Homeowners who live near forests and are watching homes burn in other states may be hoping for some advice — and some help — to keep their woodland homes as safe as possible.

Help is on the way for those who live on Mount Emily and near Cove. Union County has received $125,000 from the National Fire Plan to be used this season to help landowners create a safe circle around their homes. Another $125,000 will go to Wallowa County.

Landowners may apply for help through the Oregon Department of Forestry. Funds are limited, and state forester Mark Jacques said that this season, homes on Mount Emily and Cove are the major targets for help.

In addition to the direct federal fire plan money, Union County has tapped another federal program, one created under legislation to increase federal payments to counties impacted by decisions involving logging on federal lands.

Dara Decker, director of the county's emergency services, has applied for $6,000 to create an evacuation plan for residents, as well as modify — and perhaps amend — county regulations governing the construction of new homes adjacent to forests.

"We want to take a look, involve the public" in any proposed changes to the county requirements, Decker said.

One of Decker's goals is to put a map with evacuation routes and information about evacuation plans in the hands of every landowner. She

has estimated that one countywide mailing will cost about $2,000.

Decker said that she is coordinating the county's work with the department of forestry, which is responsible for presenting fire risk information to private landowners.

The county and the state also hope to contract with the Oregon Youth Authority to put the boys at Hilgard to work clearing brush.

The county has applied for $20,000 to contract for an eight-person crew to work under state forestry to remove the vegetation, mostly from private lands. Union County Commissioner Steve McClure said the contract will not involve removing marketable timber.

State forestry will hold neighborhood meetings to provide education about reducing the risk of home damage or loss from fire. A public meeting for Mount Emily landowners has been set for 6:30 p.m. today at the La Grande Rural Fire Protection District

on McAlister Road in Island City.

For information about the meeting or other community fire plan activities, call Jamie Chandler at state forestry, 963-3168.

— Alice Perry Linker