HOW TO JOIN THE ALL-OUT WAR ON WILDFIRES

By Gordon Williams 

There is a broad-based campaign underway to reduce the peril of wildfires and you are most cordially invited to take part in it.  

Leading the drive are the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the U.S. Forest Service, the National Fire Protection Assn (NFPA) and the American Red Cross. Goal of the combined effort is to reduce the number and severity of wildfires that have ravaged the United States in recent years, 

Washington was especially hard hit by wildfires in 2020–over 700,000 acres burned, the second worst year ever.  

Wildfire Ready Neighbors 

An initiative from the Washington DNR is called Wildfire Ready Neighbors. Hilary Franz, state Commissioner of Public Lands, calls it “a collaborative effort between DNR, community members, home preparedness experts, regional fire districts and other partners.” Right now, the program focuses on three Washington counties at high risk from fires–Chelan, Okanogan, and Spokane. Obviously, it could be scaled out to cover more of the state.   

Intent of the program, Franz explains, is “to better prepare those most at risk during wildfire season. Homes that prepare are safer and less susceptible to fire. At no cost, a preparedness expert will visit your home and develop an action plan.” You can sign up for the program at http://www.wildfireready.com. 

It isn’t likely we can stop wildfires totally. Even if human error could be eliminated, some fires still would be ignited by such natural forces as lightning. Some will be controlled fires–set deliberately to clear away flammable growth that might otherwise burn out of control in a wildfire. What these efforts can accomplish is to reduce the frequency and severity of fires.  

Fire Adapted Communities 

The Forest Service says 70,000 U.S. communities and 44 million homes are at risk from wildfires. Reducing the risk just a little could save homes and lives. So, the Forest Service offers its Fire-Adapted Communities program–aimed at training communities in how to reduce the fire risk. The Forest Service encourages the creation of community wildfire protection plans (CWPP) which identify and neutralize fire risks. 

The NFPA is a non-profit entity, founded in 1896, which seeks to reduce death, injury, and loss due to fire. It recently launched Outthink Wildfire–a comprehensive 30-year effort aimed at combating the wildfire threat. One element of the campaign is to make structures in wildfire zones more resistant to fire.  

The Red Cross, in turn, can advise you on how to fortify your home against fire. 

You do that by learning about “defensible space.”  

Create Defensible Space 

You create defensible space by moving anything that can burn away from the house–woodpiles, composting heaps, firewood, propane tanks, lawn furniture. Keep the roof clear of leaves, pine needles, twigs, and debris. Seal off vents and other entries to the house with eighth-inch mesh and use mesh to keep embers out of crawl spaces and beneath decks and porches. If you add a new roof, make sure it is made of Class “A” fire-resistant materials. 

Trim trees so crowns are far enough apart so fire does not spread from one tree to the next. Use cement or gravel walkways to break up large sweeps of vegetation to slow the spread of fire. Trim vegetation to eliminate “ladder fuel” –plantings beneath a tree that would let fire burn its way up into the tree.  

WSU Link: How to protect your home from wildfires

Still, there is just so much you can do on your own. Since wildfires can destroy whole communities, the war against fire must involve a community-wide effort to prevent and limit wildfires. Defending your own space won’t accomplish much if the rest of your neighborhood is flush with stuff that can burn. That is why the Forest Service advises, “A fuel buffer around the community and reduced fuels inside the community keep wildfires at bay.”  

Plan to Evacuate 

Community involvement also means having fully developed evacuation plans for getting residents to safety in a fire. Finally, it requires a fire service well trained and equipped to fight wildfires, 

Advice from the Red Cross can go beyond just helping you create defensible space around your home. There is also advice on how to keep your home and family safe should you find yourself in the path of fire, and how to return to your home safely after a fire. Comprehensive wildfire safety in multiple languages can be found at RedCross.org. 

American Red Cross Northwest Region

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