Washington lands officials are emphasizing prevention at the beginning of what could be a busy wildfire season.
The Department of Natural Resources reports more than 250 wildfires so far this spring, most of them east of the Cascades. That’s well above normal for this time of the year.
A residential community north of Spokane is among those signing on to a new state initiative aimed at minimizing damage caused by wildfires.
Reflection Lake is a small, manmade lake near Elk in north Spokane County. It’s Charlie Bennett’s little piece of heaven.
“Oh, don’t get me started. Reflection Lake started in 1955 as an exclusive fishing club. Bing Crosby was an original member and they called it the Pelican Club, because they’d fly their float planes up from Spokane. The Hollywood people would land right up on the lake and catch right off their planes and fly away," he said.
It’s still a fishing destination. Bennett says a hatchery nearby raises the trout that swim in the lake. It’s a lovely wooded setting where about 130 families live. But even heaven has its challenges.
“We are right in the middle of a wildfire zone. It was clearcut, basically, 100 years ago. We’ve got all this underbrush and when you leave it and don’t replant and reforest, you get a lot of trees and a lot of brush," he said.
When Bennett and his wife moved here four years ago, they began clearing that brush on their land to reduce their exposure to wildfire. He learned about a prevention program called Firewise and had fire professionals assess his property.
“I was pretty confident after doing an acre-and-a-half around my house. I only scored 65% out of 100% and I learned a lot. That’s why I got real interested in Firewise. I got my neighbors interested. DNR and the fire department are absolutely helpful. You won’t believe how much help they are," he said.
Bennett is Reflection Lake’s lead in the state’s new Wildfire Ready Neighbors program, aimed at elevating prevention to a higher role in the state’s wildfire strategy.
On Friday, he and his neighbors received a visit from state Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz.
“We have needed this state to step up and realize that communities like this are on the front line of these catastrophic fires and it’s only getting worse. We have a responsibility to make sure we are giving the resources to our firefighters so they can fight them from the air and on the ground," Franz said.
Franz is pleased the legislature agreed this spring to allocate $125 million every two years for wildfire suppression and prevention efforts.
This is a relatively low-cost part of that. Fire professionals will make no-cost assessments of homes, especially in wooded areas, that are vulnerable to wildfires. You can make an appointment for a home visit at wildfireready.com.