LA GRANDE — Union County will soon be much less vulnerable to a devastating wildfire thanks to almost $200,000 in grants from the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The grants will help fund the creation of two major firebreaks in the Mount Emily Recreation Area. Work on the firebreaks, which may start late this month, should be completed by the end of 2021, said Union County Parks Coordinator Sean Chambers.
“They will put us in a much better position to defend ourselves from wildfires,” said Paul Anderes, chair of the Union County Board of Commissioners.
Two firebreaks will be established, one along Forest Service Road 3120 and the other along MERA’s 201 Mainline Trail. Both firebreaks, which will cover a combined total of 6 miles, will run north-south.
The firebreaks will be created through a tree thinning process. Once completed, all trees in the firebreaks will be at least 25 feet apart. This will make it much less likely for a fire to spread from tree to tree, Anderes said.
“Open spaces will be created, which will make it much easier for us to defend fires,” he said.
The commissioner explained if a wildfire is ignited, the breaks will provide firefighters a position to set up resources to stop the blaze. If a wildfire starts on the face of Mount Emily, firefighters will be able to position themselves at a break to stop it from racing into the Grande Ronde Valley.
“It will be a great stand for stopping fires,” he said. “It will give them a tremendous advantage.”
Forest debris such as fallen branches will be removed in the firebreaks.
“This will reduce the continuity of fuel,” Anderes said.
The county board on Wednesday awarded one of the contracts for the work to Gary Wright Contracting Inc. of Union. The county board now is in the process of selecting a second contractor for the firebreak project.
Starting the work on creating the firebreaks in the winter will be ideal because the sites where a portion of the breaks will be are on rocky terrain, which can be hard on some equipment, such as blades.
The snow and ice that likely cover the rocks will buffer equipment from those rocks, Chambers said.
Chambers added the heavy equipment also would do less damage to frozen ground.
Anderes credited Chambers, Union County Emergency Manager J.B. Brock and Mike Burton of the Natural Resources Conservation Service with playing major roles in helping the county obtain the grants for the creation of the firebreaks.