Our Northwest

Blaze proves the need for wildfire buffer zones

Friday, May 8, 2015by  Jon Osterberg

Wildfires burn with astounding heat, something I witnessed again yesterday.
     PEMCO partnered with Kittitas County Fire District 7 to stage a controlled burn east of Cle Elum. The objective: Demonstrate how quickly wildfire can spread on overgrown property.
     Yesterday's target was a once-stout, rickety little Swauk Prairie log cabin, actually a miner's shack dating to the era of the 1873 Liberty Gold Rush. KCFD7 Chief Russ Hobbs prepped the shack beforehand, making sure no harmful materials remained inside.
     "From what I saw in there, when that thing starts blazing, you'll see hordes of mice and packrats running for their lives!" he said.
     Firefighters torched a kindling pile to start the fire. I didn't see critters scamper, but as happened at last year's controlled burn, I backpedaled in awe as the heat quickly surged. Soon the roof caved in, then the walls collapsed.
     Newspapers and television, including KIRO-TV, captured the scene.
     But the lesson of this burn centered not on the shack itself, but in the lush deciduous trees that rimmed the structure. Despite their new spring growth, the leaves and branches ignited from the intense heat. That underscored a key Firewise principle: You must create a buffer of “defensible space” around structures, clearing all brush, bushes, weeds, tall grasses, and beauty bark.
     This shack had no buffer. Flames licked upward from the leafy trees, and had the flames climbed into the nearby pines, we would have seen a grim demonstration of how pine and fir branches serve as "ladder fuel" that ignite tree crowns.
     Even in mild winds, crown fires can explode beyond control and engulf entire forests.
     Happily, our KCFD7 friends kept that from happening, dousing the nearby vegetation and even the shack itself when it raged a bit too boldly.
     Here are some basic “Firewise 101” tips to protect your home.

  • Clear a 30-foot buffer void of brush, bushes, weeds, tall grasses, and beauty bark.
  • Keep that zone well-watered.
  • Remove any branches that hang over structures.
  • Within 200 feet of your home, remove all mature-tree branches within 15 feet of the ground.
  • If you stack firewood, keep it at least 30 feet from your home, and (if possible) uphill.

     Other Firewise principles advise that you create non-flammable landscaping, ensure fire trucks can easily use your driveway, make your address clearly visible from the road, and more. Check out our Don’t Get Burned! site.

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