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Freedom seeks grant for wildfire evacuation plan

August 19, 2010
FREEDOM — Huge fires swept through the Ossipee Pine Barrens in 1947 and 1958. Today, there's much more development in the area and that has prompted Freedom's Fire Chief to apply for a federal grant to create a wildfire response and evacuation plan.

On Monday night, Julia Chase, of New Hampshire Homeland Security and Emergency Management, came to the selectmen's meeting to speak about the grant and to have board members sign paperwork for getting the process going. The Ossipee Pine Barrens covers 12,696 acres in the area of Ossipee Lake Road. The pine barrens area contains numerous developments and campgrounds, such as Totem Pole Park with 456 sites and Danforth Bay Camping and RV Resort with about 600 sites, said Fire Chief Gene Doe.

"A wildfire would be fast moving and there wouldn't be a lot of time for evacuations," said Chase. "We're going to have to have a very detailed plan for how we are going to get people out."

The pine barrens is one of the two top spots for severe fires in the state. A wildfire could break out at any time, added Doe. If a fire broke out, some of the challenges would be removing all the children from the camps and directing the traffic in an orderly fashion. Camp directors have been included in the discussion because a lot of camps already have evacuation plans that can be used.

"You know everyone is going to go every which way you can imagine," said Doe of what would happen in a fire without a plan. "What we want to do is get it so this section goes this way and another group goes that way."

The evacuation plan may include having people at Danforth campground's upper section take a back road to Purity Springs in Madison. The bridge on the back road isn't usable so drivers go around the bridge, through the brook, and up the other side. RVs wouldn't be able to pass, but regular vehicles can, said officials.

Part of the process will be determining if roads need to be upgraded, said Selectmen's chair Les Babb.

Consultant Jane Hubbard, of Andover, will write the Emergency Management Preparedness Grant with help from a committee made up of officials from Freedom, Ossipee, Tamworth, and Madison, and stakeholders such as the officials from the Nature Conservancy. In Homeland Security's experience, a contractor, like Hubbard, is necessary to do all the research required to construct the plan, said Chase.

Hubbard already wrote the emergency operations plan for Freedom, said Doe.

The grant is for $10,000 of federal money, distributed by Chase's office. The local communities involved are responsible for matching that amount. However, the match will be met with the time committee members spend on the grant. Doe said there are about 17 committee members and they could work at a rate of about $25 per hour. Creating the plan could take about six months, said Chase.

After the plan is created, officials would review it in a tabletop exercise. Commanders would go through the motions of how to respond to a given scenario. The tabletop exercise would cost $6,000 and would be included in another grant. The tabletop exercise could be done in March.

"The communities have identified wildfires as one of the top hazards given the pine barrens," said Chase. "It will be very helpful to talk about resources and how you would plan to fight a particular fire."

Residents can reduce the risk of suffering damage from wildfires by raking around their houses and camps. Items like leaves and pine needles would fuel a fire, said Doe.

In other selectmen's business:

- A town committee is in the process of identifying other potential uses for the town office building on Old Portland Road, which employees complain is too small and inefficient. Potential other uses currently being examined are: an activity center, a daycare center, a craft store, and a fitness center. The committee is also looking at the potential for selling the building. Their next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 30.

- The state has threatened to stop stocking Loon Lake with trout if the town insists on requiring those who wish to use the town-owned boat ramp to get a permit, Police Chief Josh Shackford told selectmen. Selectmen replied they'd invite officials from Fish and Game to a meeting to talk about it.

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