Our Northwest

Wildfires rage again, but you can lessen your risk

Tuesday, July 30, 2013by  Jon Osterberg

Driving toward Seattle from Kennewick yesterday, it seemed all of Eastern Washington was on fire. Again.
   One year ago, Washington and Oregon residents endured a horrible wildfire season. We own a cabin near Cle Elum that's just six miles from where the 2012 Taylor Bridge inferno sparked to life.
   Thankfully, the prevailing winds blew away from our cabin last year, and we escaped harm. But nearby communities suffered.
   Today, the Satus Pass fire continues to burn and dirty the sky with brown haze. It made for spectacular sunsets in the Tri-Cities this past weekend but marred the usually pure-blue backdrop for the annual Columbia Cup hydroplane races.
   Nearing Ellensburg on our drive home yesterday the haze thickened, and by the time we reached Cle Elum the air reeked of thick smoke that blotted out nearby Mt. Stuart. Firefighters blamed atypical winds that blew west, instead of east, from the Colockum Ridge fire south of Wenatchee.
   Rural homeowners can take steps to help prevent losing their houses and outbuildings to wildfires. The best time to do it obviously is before summer. Yet some measures can be done relatively quickly. Here are six low-cost, high-payoff tips:

  1. Maintain a buffer zone within 30 feet of your home. Keep grass watered and mowed, and consider firebreaks as part of the landscape gravel paths, ponds, and driveways.
  2. Prune trees so the lowest branches are at least 15 feet above the ground, and ensure no limbs come within 15 feet of your home. Remove all dry brush and woody debris that can fuel a ground fire.
  3. Mulch with pumice or gravel rather than combustible beauty bark.
  4. Stack firewood at least 30 feet away and uphill from any structure (uphill, since that's the direction fire tends to burn). Clear a 10-foot area around propane tanks and barbecues.
  5. Ensure tree crowns are spaced at least 20 feet apart.
  6. Make your property firefighter-friendly with your address visible from the road both day and night. Widen your driveway to at least 12 feet so a fire truck can get through.

Read the May issue of our Perspective customer newsletter to find a full feature on how to protect your home from a wildfire.

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