The city of Brookings has spent a yet-to-be-determined amount of money for its involvement in the Chetco Bar
Fire and hopes to get some reimibursement through a federal grant.
City staff is collecting data to determine that cost after federal legislative staff advised Brookings to develop a mitigation budget by mid-September for possible consideration in Washington, D.C. Much of the city’s costs concern the fire department and the Emergency Operating Center.
“Town hall was the call center for public information,” City Manager Gary Milliman said Monday in a regular city council meeting. “We had nine to 12 employees working in the EOC: (municipal pool) lifeguards, GIS personnel, fire and police officers. Multiple phone lines were put in. This building was converted to a call center.”
He added that Brookings is beginning to transition from an emergency status to one of recovery. Operations are no longer taking place in town buildings.
The federal government has a $50,000 technical assistance grant available for an economic impact analysis, Milliman said. One estimate for a Brookings and Curry County study was $33,000.
Long-term economic-loss data will be collected community-wide in the next several months.
Milliman emphasized that now is not the time to point fingers about where things might have gone wrong in fighting the fire when it was small, and noted that state and federal elected officials are aware the issue needs to be discussed.
Tuesday, the Chetco Bar Fire had burned 184,292 acres, almost 18 percent of land in Curry County. It is 8 percent contained. The majority of that is U.S. Forest Service land, according to Forest Service websites, but 15,000 acres is private land, much of it owned by South Coast Lumber.
The Brookings-based firm, the largest employer in the city, didn’t just lose timber, but the time it took to grow the trees. Efforts to reach officials there were unsuccessful.
“The federal government should fund an economic impact study of the fire,” Milliman said, listing talking points that could be addressed after the incident is over. “What are the short- and long-term economic impacts on Curry County and Brookings? What is the impact on timber, the fisheries, tourism, people interested in relocating here?”
He said that since the fire originated on Forest Service land, the federal government has a “big responsibility” to assist with recovery.
“What economic assistance can or will they offer?” he said. “There needs to be a plan for rehabilitating the burn area.”
Additionally, local agencies must be fully reimbursed for the costs incurred in fighting the fire — not the usual 75 percent. Additionally, the federal government should help fund infrastructure improvements to make the community more fire resilient.
“There are impacts to come,” Milliman said. “The fire will expose drainage systems to increased erosion and could impact our river (drinking water) intake. This needs to be evaluated.”
And Congress, he said, needs to conduct an inquiry into why the fire was not addressed before it blew up from 6,500 acres Aug. 18 to 22,000 acres the next day.
Because the fire started in a designated wilderness area, Forest Service policy requires it be allowed to burn, with minimal suppression activity, unless it threatens structures. There were insufficient resources to construct and staff a defensible line, Milliman said.