- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

RUCH, Ore. (AP) - Ruch School middle-schoolers spent several hours Monday - their day off - readying their school for the impending wildfire season.

About 20 students worked alongside members of Applegate Fire District 9, Bureau of Land Management and Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative to assess the area around the school for potential fire hazards, plant fire-resistant plants and clear away ladder fuels from along the Ruch Nature Trail that runs through the campus.

“We’re learning about how to protect ourselves from wildfires and keep our school safe,” said sixth-grader Kelli Roelke, who lost her home several years ago in an electrical fire and understands the devastation that a fire can cause.

The community project was funded by a $500 Firewise grant offered by the National Fire Protection Association and sponsored by State Farm. SOFRC, in collaboration with Applegate Fire, was one of 338 applicants from 26 states to apply for the grant and one of only 65 to receive it.

The intent of the project, explained Ruch Principal Julie Barry, is not only to create a defensible space around Ruch School but also to raise wildfire awareness in the community and teach students a life skill they can use to identify risks around their own homes.

Before donning their work gloves Monday, the students were taught about fire science, fire behavior, plant and animal adaptability and the three zones that make up a defensible space.

“We also walked around the school and pointed out all the good and bad, including the principal’s prized cedars that are right outside the front office . and are going to be relocated and replaced with fire-resistant plants,” said Carey Chaput, Applegate Fire’s office manager.

Other potential fire hazards include a large propane tank surrounded by pine trees and some burn piles that also are surrounded by pine trees near the school, said seventh-grader Joby Evanow.

Evanow was part of a group of students tasked with planting a small patch of native hellebores, wild strawberries and red-twig dogwood in zone two, about 100 feet away from the school.

“We’re learning about what’s flammable and what’s not,” Evanow said, before rejoining his group to water and spread mulch around the new plants.

Another group of students landscaped a small area in zone three, about 200 feet away from the school, with moisture-retaining succulents and irises.

Signs also were posted within 30 feet, 100 feet and 200 feet of the school with plant recommendations for each zone.

Students also filled community volunteer Matt Epstein’s truck with dry Ponderosa branches and madrone “suckers” - both ladder fuels - from the woodland area between the school and Upper Applegate Road.

For their homework, the students were asked to assess their own homes and nominate someone in the community who may need help creating a defensible space.

On May 2, National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, Applegate Fire Chief Brett Fillis will choose one of the nominees, and a crew of local fire agencies will spend several hours doing fuel reduction around his or her home, Chaput said.

“Now’s the time to get everybody thinking ahead and preparing,” Chaput said.

“(Fire season) is going to be horrendous somewhere,” she said. “We hope it’s not us, but there’s been several years of drought and fuels drying out, so the potential for an intense fire is here.”

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Information from: Mail Tribune, https://www.mailtribune.com/

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