Students plant a future safer from wildfire
by Nicole Esan, NFPA Public Affairs Intern
The community of Ruch, OR, along with a team of local firefighters, the Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative and Ruch Elementary/Middle School combined forces to build a Firewise demonstration site on the grounds of Ruch Elementary on May 2. The project was done to honor, recognize and celebrate this year’s Wildfire Community Preparedness Day and spread awareness for many years to come. Ruch received a $500 funding award from State Farm, a co-sponsor of the event, to assist with funding the project.
“We want the kids to be prepared. We try to teach them that fire is unpredictable,” said project coordinator for the Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative, Gwyn Myer. “If you’re going to be a fire adapted community, then you need to be prepared if you want to protect your home. Fire is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be. It’s about what we can do to live with fire.”
On Monday, Apr. 20, a day with no school, the students of Ruch Middle School worked alongside members of the Collaborative, Applegate Fire District 9 and the Bureau of Land Management to assess the land around their school for potential wildfire hazards while clearing away ladder fuels and planting fire-resistant plants along the Ruch Nature Trail that runs through the campus.
Once students identified the hazards, they assisted in installing wildfire risk precautionary signs in places where there’s potential danger. Students were also encouraged to take their new found knowledge home and share it with their families. Suggestions were submitted by the students that spelled out which homes they considered vulnerable and demonstrated a need to be more Firewise.
According to an article by Teresa Thomas in the Mail Tribune April 21 titled, “Students participate in fuel reduction effort at Ruch School,” Ruch principal Julie Barry explained the intent of the project is not only to create a defensible space around Ruch School, but to raise wildfire awareness in the community and teach students a life skill they can use to identify risks around their own homes.
Educating students in a fun, engaging way, such as playing games, is a great way to ensure they’re absorbing what they learn. According to the NFPA January 2013 report on Engaging Youth in Reducing Wildfire Risk, more than eight million students in grades six through 12 live in a U.S. wildland/urban interface community with a potential wildfire risk. They represent a resource that could be a valuable conduit in bringing wildfire mitigation information into their homes and be participants in actions that can reduce the overall risk.
“We tell the kids they can be ambassadors. We encourage them to take the message home and share it with their family and neighbors, giving them ownership and confidence that they can share what they learned,” said Myer.