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Ashland’s SmokeWise Program Receives $110,000 from State of Oregon

Ashland’s SmokeWise Program Receives $110,000 from State of Oregon
Approximately 400 smoke-vulnerable Ashland residents will get air purifiers thanks to an $85,000 grant from the State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Two to three public spaces will also be targeted for upgrades to air filtration systems to create clean air refuges, much like Southern Oregon University offered during the 2018 summer smoke. An additional $25,000 from DEQ will allow the City and SmokeWise Ashland program partners to craft a smoke response plan to better alert the community when smoke threatens air quality. Though DEQ’s funding targets smoke from necessary controlled burns that protect the city and watershed from wildfires, smoke protections apply equally during summer wildfire season. Controlled burns are currently on hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  
Air purifiers will be purchased in bulk and distributed through partner organizations to those most at risk and in need of assistance. Outreach will targeted to vulnerable groups, and citizens should not call the City or any other organization for help unless contacted first. Air cleaners can filter the air in one room and be easily moved to a bedroom at night. Having a clean air space is a priority for those most at risk from smoke particulates.
 “The increasing wildfire destruction and smoke we’ve seen is only forecasted to accelerate with climate change,” said Chris Chambers, Wildfire Division Chief at Ashland Fire & Rescue.  “There’s no substitute for the community safety and forest health benefits of controlled burns, and though smoke impacts from burns are short and less intense than summer wildfire smoke, we have to protect the most vulnerable people from all smoke impacts.” 
Seeing the need to provide community smoke awareness to accomplish critical controlled burns in Ashland’s forests, the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project (AFR) partners reached out to the community for help and found willing partners at the Ashland Chamber of Commerce and Asante Ashland Community Hospital. After the program launched, the smoke-filled summer of 2017 hit and SmokeWise became an invaluable one-stop shopping resource for citizens, businesses, schools, and organizations looking to find out air quality readings, health information, and the status of dozens of regional wildfires. The website was upgraded in 2018 to create a better, mobile phone friendly experience.
SmokeWise Ashland has operated on a small budget through a combination of grants from the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, the USDA Forest Service, and Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. SmokeWise now includes Jackson County Health and Human Services, Southern Oregon University, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in addition to the Chamber of Commerce and core AFR partners The Nature Conservancy, Lomakatsi Restoration Project, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, and the City of Ashland.

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