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‘Scared the hell out of everybody’: La Pine residents seek fuels reduction grant after Darlene Fire

(Update: Adding video, comments from La Pine landowner, ODF)

LA PINE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- With the ongoing drought causing concerns of an early and extreme wildfire season, some homeowners, like Phil Johnson of La Pine, are taking advantage of assistance programs to help them create a safe zone around their homes.    

Phil Johnson’s 25-acre La Pine property was just a half-mile away from the flames of last summer’s Darlene Fire.

“We dodged a bullet on that one -- there's no question about it,” Johnson said Friday of the fire, which destroyed most everything in its path.

“Definitely, after the fire that we had last summer, it pretty much scared the hell out of everybody,” Johnson said. 

His property was spared damage, but he said there are five or six dense areas of brush and branches around it that need to be cleaned up, or they present huge wildfire fuel risks.

“You know, if it gets in here, it’s going to burn, there's no question about it,” Johnson said. “You can look around here, and I spent almost 20 years trying to get what’s cleaned up cleaned up. But if it gets in these trees, it's going to go through it -- nothing is going to stop it.”

Phil is applying for help on fuel reduction projects with the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Central Oregon District.

The intent of the projects is to reduce the potential of wildfire spreading to structures and to improve ingress/egress routes in the wildland-urban interface, specifically Juniper Canyon residents in Crook County, DRRH 1-5 & 9 in the La Pine area of Deschutes County, and Crooked River Ranch in Jefferson and Deschutes counties. 

Funding for the projects comes from the $5 million grant program established by Senate Bill 762, legislation which focuses on creating fire-adapted communities through fuels reduction of hazardous fuels on small forestlands.

“We have a really short time frame to put these operational dollars on the ground and get the projects completed,” ODF Central Oregon Public Information Officer Christie Shaw said.  

If accepted, ODF will design a minimum standard of what needs to be done and could have a firefighter offering technical assistance, or even bring in other groups to help out on the ground. 

“Some of the work in the in-kind can actually come from other agencies, potentially,” Shaw said.

NewsChannel 21 asked Johnson if he could clean up his property by himself.

“You can, but it takes years to do it, absolutely years to do it,” Johnson said. “But if you get 10 guys going in here, you could look at a week, and you’d have 10 acres cleaned out.”

Johnson’s kids have moved out of the house, and he’s still recovering from a broken leg.

“As neighbors we try to get together and help each other do stuff like that but it’s tough, especially as you get older. There's no question about it,” Johnson said. 

He's grateful the grant is an option, and believes it will inspire people to create safe zones around their homes.

“And most people that live here, put both feet in,” Johnson said. “You know, there's not just, ‘Oh, I do it a little bit, or when I want to.’ They’re on it all year round.”

Author Profile Photo

Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.



      1. Given that this man added the quintessential La Pine “improvement” to his property (an abandoned school bus) I don’t think he can take offense when it’s pointed out the real estate values there suffer because of how he and others care for their places.

          1. You’re flat out wrong Barney–at the 56-sec mark the cameraman pans this man’s acreage and it shows his abandoned bus with no wheels and earlier it showed other junk vehicles on his 25 acres. For whatever reason, it’s fashionable in La Pine to have your own private wrecking yard, and I’m simply calling a spade a spade.

          2. If you want further verification, you can see the school bus and the other junk rigs in the counties aerial photos. FWIW it’s a code violation to store junk vehicles outdoors.

              1. You’re like a 5-year-old who keeps repeating his new naughty word but you don’t know what the word means. Bigotry would be unreasonably attaching the belief that residents of La Pine embrace junkyards. The fact is Lapinesse love junkyards and they destroy the pristine beauty of that area.

          1. Actually it’s the business of every Oregonian because in 1973 we established the freedom to live in a nice state where junkyards, slaughterhouses, etc, are in industrial areas.  This guy is ignoring the governmental protections in place to protect those freedoms and yet he’s asking government to fund protecting his property.  He could create his own defensible space by hauling his junk rigs to the wrecking yard where they belong.

    1. You must still live at home and your mom feeds you chef boyardee.

      It doesn’t matter if people have a lot or little to lose in a fire when it’s gone its gone. But you have no concept. Dinners ready!

      1. It doesn’t make sense to talk about fire losses in regards to worthless junk vehicles. On that note, I’ve just noticed that an area’s embrace of storing junk cars matches its embrace of Donald Trump–i.e. if you see lots of junkers, you’re in Trump country.

      1. That is not a sentence that you wrote prior to calling someone an idiot. We don’t need boomers running our country anymore. We need younger critical thinkers that can solve real world issues like the drought that is linked to anthropogenic climate change in our area.

  1. @TrumpsTinyHands,
    Socialmalism is okay when they are the beneficiaries, like my little C.O. town that lives off grants. Every court meeting you will hear the word grant many times over, ‘what about this grant?’, ‘are we eligible for that grant?’, ‘can we apply for that program?’ and on and on. One day I heard a lady intimately connected to this little courthouse gang pipe up and ask rhetorically, ‘what does life owe you?’ and then she quipped back proudly and said ‘nothing, that’s what it woes you, nothing.’ I about fell out of my chair, I thought, really? Coming from this federal grant handout of a town? You are really going to pretend you and your little circle of grant babies around here are “self sufficient?’ The point is, many of these small, rural little counties in Oregon’s rural East side are all knee deep in federal monies and almost all of them learn to game the system to the most degree they can. We have got a lady in our government building that proudly calls herself as others do around her, the “Grant Queen.” Oddly it never dawns on these people what utter hypocrites they all are. They too play that oh so tiresome charade that they too are all “self-sufficient”, except they aren’t, all the things around them have been bought and supplied by the taxpayers’ money, including their unjustified and inflated salaries and “perks” they give themselves. If there were ever such a thing as Handout Hannas, these are them, that you can be sure of.

  2. ‘Oregon Mortgage Interest Deduction Audit: Inequitable’
    The Oregon secretary of state’s office is calling for changes to a decades old tax policy that auditors found benefits primarily white, wealthy homeowners in urban counties while leaving thousands to fight for housing assistance.
    And what do you bet that the majority of the wealthy white people who received these large windfall tax credits would also be against ‘evool’ Socialism, unless that is… it benefits themselves as this tax scheme did? It’s all about whose bread is being buttered. It’s not Socialism these people despise, it’s not getting a cut of that Socialism Pie they despise. Hell, the multi-Trillion dollar bailout of America’s most massive and crooked banks in 2008 were bailed out with… you guessed it, the oh so evool SOCIALISM! So Socialism isn’t bad when it goes to the already wealthy, it’s only bad when it goes to those “lazy” poor people, aint that right, Merica?

      1. China and Vietnam have different forms of communism. Neither are Socialist countries. Vietnam adopts a Western European approach to law whereas China adopts a Russian approach to law. You do not know what you are regurgitating.

      1. Barney- stop playing kissy face with this loudmouth ! The Loony-Lew posts are way too long- you “do” have word count system available- and you need to start delaying these posts till your bedtime- then release them- like you do to conservative posters… Yep- we’re still watching you !

        1. I asked him nicely. He responded nicely. You wouldn’t know “nice” if you tried.
          Your false accusations need to be seen by folks other than me once in a while. WE MODERATE POSTS CHRONOLOGICALLY.
          You cannot prove otherwise because it’s just another false accusation from you. Your hypocrisy knows no bounds. You accuse others of hate in hateful fashion.
          It got old years ago. Folks don’t respond to you because it’s useless.

          1. So bold ! So defiant !! So smug !!! We can actually prove a lot of things- all of which you personally displayed the same level of arrogance on- Hillary in a landslide- the Steele Dossier- your failed CV19 experts- masks- lock-downs- the Z21 snitch-mobile targeting Mom and Pop coffee shops- the fact that Loony lews posts are longer than any else is allowed to post ! All provable ! So try a little humility- or at least attend another “angry angels” meeting- on-line !

            1. You post long too. I’ve never deleted a post based on length. Another false claim, as always. I never wrote any of the stuff you lay the “guilt by association” false trip on. And I bet the stories were all factual for their time. Our viewership and readership is strong, and it’s not “hate-watchers” such as yourself. You don’t listen, or open your mind – you gather ammunition. It’s quite sad.

            2. You are a far right fascist extremist. Your failure to understand that mandates worked to keep infection rates down in the state of Oregon versus other states like Florida that has been purposely hiding information shows me the buffoon you are hiding in your home writing from a PC.

  3. You are another person with no clue. windfall profit off a tiny interest deduction on a home loan vs all the property taxes we pay? All in all me thinks you flunked economics 101 or never got past 3rd grade.

    1. In your accounting, do renters pay property taxes? Should they receive any of the benefits of a mortgage interest deduction? A property owner can deduct landscaping as a legitimate business expense if it’s a rental, should owner occupied dwellings be granted the same exemption? If a renter is required to pay all of the utilities in addition to the rent, are they not responsible for the property?

  4. Odds are that, given the inflation in real estate values, that most of these folks have significant equity in their property. Just tap into that a bit with a second mortgage and have your property professionally cleared this Spring. Waiting for a government handout is not a good look. The second mortgage can be repaid by your kids when they inherit the property.

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