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‘206ers,’ get smart and do your part

Tuesday, May 13, 2014by  Jon Osterberg

wildfire producing large volume of smoke     People who live east of the Cascades worry about west-siders and their ignorance toward wildfire danger.

That’s the upshot of the latest PEMCO research, summarized in today’s news release. While most year-round “dry side” residents feel confident they’ve prepared their homes and land to resist wildfire, far fewer think their neighbors have done likewise.

The reason: many residents say their neighbors are weekend or seasonal visitors who live west of the mountains – “206ers,” they call them (even if they live in area codes 425, 360, or 253).
aerial view of cle elum valleyThe research reflects the responses of people living near Cle Elum, Leavenworth, and Chelan, all wildfire-prone communities that participated in focus groups last month.

I’m a 206er (well, actually, living in Redmond I’m a 425er) with a cabin on forested land near Cle Elum, and I can come clean with examples of what not to do, as well as what to do.

Shortly after we bought our cabin, we hired a consultant named Phil to tell us how to thin our trees to lessen fire danger and open up stunning views of Mt. Stuart. Phil had retired after a long career at Boise Cascade and was helping people with what he calls land-stewardship planning.

Following his advice, we hired a logger to drop and remove 31 mature fir trees around our cabin. This created a perimeter where few trees remained within a 75-foot radius. On the downhill slope, that perimeter was well over 100 feet. I also cleared away all brush and tall grass within 30 feet of the cabin.

Phil explained this follows “Firewise” principles, creating a fuel-free buffer around the home. He also told me to cut the branches off of every remaining tree, up to 15 feet from the ground. That keeps limbs from becoming a “ladder fuel,” where brush ignites limbs, and fire climbs up the tree, igniting the crown.

So I did all those things that summer and felt pretty good about my efforts. Plus, we opened up a killer view of the mountains.

Then I did something dumb.

I had stacked all the branches into huge piles in September and covered them with visqueen. That winter, with a foot of snow on the ground, I spent a weekend burning one of the piles.

We returned two weekends later, after further snowfall. I was shocked as we neared the cabin. Smoke curled up from what I thought was merely an ash pile. Hot embers remained, warding off snow. What’s more, I had stacked the limbs on top of a stump, and fire followed its roots deep into the soil.

If a root fire can persist through snowy midwinter, imagine the danger in summer and fall.

That is what people east of the Cascades fear. No so much stupidity, but ignorance.

And it’s often the ignorance of “weekender” 206ers who live in the lush, damp Puget Sound lowlands, and who don’t recognize wildfire danger that’s inherent with their windy, sloped, pine-covered weekend property. So they often don’t Firewise.

Aside from increased awareness among part-time residents, PEMCO learned that many year-round residents know how to Firewise, but don’t do it.

As with many things, knowledge – without action – is useless.

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