Home insurance

Wildfire prep protects neighbors’ homes, too

Wednesday, September 6, 2017by  Jon Osterberg

The Jolly Mountain wildfire rages north of Cle Elum and Roslyn, August 2017.As trees erupt in flames just 8 miles from our Cle Elum cabin, I'm reminded of my responsibility to my neighbors to rid my property of wildfire fuel.

This past spring, PEMCO sent an inspector to assess my cabin and land for wildfire risk. Though I was commended for thinning and tidying up my forested 5 acres, my cabin itself has a few issues, and my adjoining neighbors' acreage has not been groomed to Firewise standards, which directly worsens my own fire risk.

Our rural community comprises 19 lots ranging from 5 to 8 acres of former Plum Creek timber land. In years past I've suggested we explore becoming a Fire Adapted Community by following Firewise measures, to lessen the risk of an inferno like what's currently raging on nearby Jolly Mountain.

But my neighbors felt they had things under control, so nothing transpired.

Last month I was pleased to learn that at our annual community meeting, which I was unable to attend, the host suggested we invite a Fire Adapted Community expert to come and give us a presentation. I emailed all of the neighbors and offered to approach the local fire district, which I'd worked closely with on PEMCO's "Don't Get Burned!" awareness campaign. I'm certain they'd love to talk with us.

Only two neighbors expressed interest.

"Fire Danger" sign says "extreme today!"The homeowners in our community are mostly "westsiders" who use their property on weekends and vacations. I think just a half-dozen of my neighbors live there year-round. Our community likely reflects what rural Cle Elum residents fear, as revealed in PEMCO's 2014 research on wildfire preparedness: Half of those surveyed said that just "some" of their neighbors actively protect their homes and neighborhoods from wildfire.

The most-worrisome neighbors? Not the locals. It's the seasonal residents from west of the Cascades, perceived by the locals as ignorant of fire danger and whose property is least prepared against risk.

This past weekend we stretched the holiday over five days, and from Wednesday night through Monday a smoky shroud ebbed and flowed across our hillside. At night I watched the ridgetop across the valley glow orange from flaming trees, and I was glad the stagnant air did not gust south, in my direction.

Woman prunes pine tree to limit fire danger.Many people think wildfires grow only when direct flame and intense heat ignite vegetation and structures. Yet every year, homes are lost to flying embers that can soar more than a mile from their source.

That, my PEMCO inspector said, is one reason why no matter how well I've created defensible space around my cabin, I'm still at risk if my neighbors' property is clogged with brush and trees.

Perhaps some good can come out of the Jolly Mountain fire, if it awakens people to the danger sprouting and withering in their own back yards.

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