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Fire Districts Help Create "Wildfire Ready Neighbors"

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Washington's Department of Natural Resources is working with homeowners to reduce their exposure to wildfires.  ?

The Wildfire Ready Neighbors program is sending fire experts to rural areas to talk about specific ways property owners can make their homes safer. I had a fire expert come to my place, northwest of Spokane. It's a classic eastern Washington landscape, open dry grass meadows with small stands of ponderosa pines. The fire danger has always been here but has become more worrisome in recent years. ?

The Wildfire Ready Neighbors program sent former Fire District 5 Commissioner Bonnie Cobb.? Cobb walked around my property and made specific suggestions about how to make sure if a fire comes to my area, it doesn't spread to my home. First, she examined the immediate zone closest to my house.??

“I would try to weed whack, clean up all the pine cones and pine needles, and if possible, put down some ground cover with rock over the top of it. If you could come out even five feet from your home, it would be a huge help," she said.

Then we walked around to my back deck.??

"Under your deck in the back there, if you could put some 1/8 square or smaller wire behind your lattice, just to keep the embers from flying in there."

?"What about metal roofs, are they OK?" I asked.

?“They are wonderful they are great," she said.

“Unless they're covered with pine needles?”

?“Correct, you want all the debris to come off each spring, and if you have a big windstorm if possible get up and pull that debris off of there," she said.

??The majority of homes lost to wildfires are caused by embers that rain down from a fire nearby. The basic idea is to create a defensible space around your home. The DNR program asks that homeowners start with that immediate zone up to 5 feet out, then gradually try to reduce the fuels outward to the intermediate zone 30 feet away, and finally the extended zone up to 200 feet out.

They realize this may be a big undertaking. It can take some time and money to complete. But the idea is to get started as soon as you can.??For me, this will eventually involve dealing with some towering pines fairly close to the house, and also thinning my small, wooded area.

“What do you consider too close, the trees too close together. How close can they be?”? I asked.

“They have to be twice what the branch length is between each tree. They advise you to go 10 feet between each tree, but if you have huge trees, it could be a little bit more, small trees a little bit less. And you never want to trim a tree more than half of what its height is. So if you have a six-foot tree you never want to go over three feet from the ground up, but if you have a large tree like this one sitting here, you like to get those limbs because they're so close to the roof. If the wind was blowing, they could touch the roof and get some embers started," Cobb said.

The DNR is also offering to send a forestry expert to your property to discuss more specific steps that can be taken in heavily treed areas.

So now I have my work cut out for me. It may take months or, in the case of eventually cutting down some larger trees, even longer. But know I have a better plan as to how to proceed.

In Spokane County, you have until June 11 to sign up for the program.


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