I read a story recently in the newspaper describing how a forest-thinning project helped contain a wildfire in the northern part of Stevens County. In 2010, using a federal grant, an area in Sand Creek north of Orient was cleared of dense pines and brush to remove fuel from wildfires that might occur. Last month a residential burn was left unattended and a fire began to quickly spread towards several homes. Because of the forest- thinning project and the lack of abundant fuels for the wildfire, firefighters were able to easily contain the spreading fire, and no homes were endangered.
This incident should serve as another reminder for those living in rural areas to prepare an adequate defensible area around their homes in case of a fire. If you’ve lived in the area for a while, you will remember firestorm 1991 where 120 homes were lost and over $20 million in property damage occurred. Again in 2007, we experienced the Valley View fire where many structures were destroyed by a wind driven wildfire. In that incident, there were several situations where firefighters were able to save only those homes with defensible areas. If the area near a structure is clear of tall trees and heavy ground cover, the fire will move more slowly and can be contained with fewer resources. Manpower and water for firefighting are often limited during a large incident.
What is a defensible area and what should you do to prepare? A defensible space is fire resistant landscaping that helps protect your home from wildfire. The area nearest your home (30-50 feet) should contain low-growing plants with low fuel volume. Shrubs should be pruned to remove flammable fuel, and if you have trees near the house as most of us do for shade, they need to be trimmed high from the ground with no branches within 10 feet from a chimney. If you are building a new home or landscaping, it’s a good idea to plant deciduous trees near the house as they are generally more fire resistant than evergreens. Keep vegetation well irrigated within 30-50 feet of your house. It’s also a good idea to have a second zone, up to 100 feet from your house, that has been raked and cleared of brush and flammable materials. The three R’s of a good DEFENSIBLE space are: Removal, Reduction and Replacement.
Generally fire season peaks near the end of the summer, but it’s not too soon to begin to prepare your property now. Being prepared is always the best way to avoid a potential disaster. The National Fire Protection Association has information that can assist homeowners get ready for this year’s fire season. Check out the NFPA website at www.firewise.org. Click on: “homeowners” and then on “Preparing a home for Wildfire Season” to take a fun quiz that provides tips to get your home ready for fire season.