Washington’s disappointing 2014-15 ski season, marked by low snowpack for the second year in a row, did more than ruin a few vacations. It’s already sparking concerns about what may lie ahead as wildfire season approaches.
Memories of last year’s devastating Carlton Complex fires – the largest in state history, which destroyed 300 homes and burned 256,108 acres – are still achingly fresh in the minds of Central Washington residents.
While there’s no good way to predict whether this year’s fire threat will be wild or mild, state lands officials urge residents to act now to protect their homes.
Beginning April 1, PEMCO will re-launch its “Don’t Get Burned!” website with tips to Firewise your home, as well as resources to help you develop family emergency and escape plans.
The information can help year-round rural residents who have learned to accept wildfires as part of life, and the thousands of urban “wet-siders” who own fire-prone vacation property east of the Cascades.
Firewise homes use “lean, clean, and green” landscaping to create a fire buffer that encourages flames to go around, rather than through, the property. Many techniques, like these, require more sweat than money:
- Remove dead brush, and keep grass mowed and watered within 30 feet of your home. Consider firebreaks as part of the landscape – gravel paths, ponds, and driveways.
- 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.
- Mulch with pumice or gravel rather than combustible beauty bark.
- 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.
While many homeowners are taking steps to Firewise, not everyone has jumped on board. Kittitas County Fire District #7 Fire Chief Russ Hobbs notes that his county is among the most fire-aware in the state, with 25 to 30% of homeowners complying with Firewise guidelines.
“But that means even in a well-prepared county,” Hobbs said, “up to 75% of its at-risk population is still exposed – unnecessarily – to greater danger from a wildfire.”