Defensible space around homes can help protect from fires

Clark County in high-risk zone this wildfire season

Fire officials predict a drier summer season. Check with local fire districts before burning recreationally.
Fire officials predict a drier summer season. Check with local fire districts before burning recreationally.
photo Courtesy of Clark County Fire District 3
Posted

Over 2 million homes in Washington state have the potential to be impacted by wildfires, with Clark County being one of 12 areas most at risk.

According to Washington’s wildfire bill (HB1168), Yacolt, northern Battle Ground, Cougar and Amboy include land specified as wildland urban interface (WUI). Properties within the WUI contain dense vegetation, difficult access and steep slopes, said Scott Sorenson, Clark County District 3 fire chief.

As outside temperatures start to rise, residents can take different actions to increase defenses against wildfires. Chris Drone, District 3 fire marshal, said the department responded to 271 outdoor fires last year that were human-caused, which included incidents like burning yard debris.

Permits are required for all debris burning in an area smaller than 10 feet by 10 feet. Residents are advised to call the department to see if burning is allowed. Large land clearing requires a separate permit from the Department of Natural Resources.

“In this area, we get a lot of rain and we don’t think about our fire history, but it’s there,” Sorensen said. “Preparation starts way before fire season.”

The Fire Risk Specialist Program started about 20 years ago to connect community members with educational resources about wildfires. Drone said in 2019 before the pandemic, District 3 spent four months visiting 600 homes in moderate to high-risk fire zones to discuss safety precautions.

Sorenson said National Weather Service reports show drier and warmer weather through September, which raises concerns about large fires. Temperatures are two weeks ahead of a typical year and fuel levels have low moisture levels.

Many Western Washington residents think wildfires are an uncommon occurrence, said WSU Extension Forester Patrick Shults. Wildfires require three components: an abnormally dry summer, an ignition source and a wind event coming from the mountains.

Fires have become more regular due to human-started blazes. About 90 percent of wildfires are caused by humans, Shults said.

“Some of the fire ecologists joke that Western Washington doesn’t have wildfire events, they have wind events with wildfire because that’s the thing that really drives them,” he said.

First, people must make a plan for evacuation far before fire  season begins. Fires in Western Washington move fast. Residents should pack a “go bag” and research resources to find the status of a fire nearby.

Shults focuses on community outreach and education for small forest landowners. He said the most important step in home fire prevention starts with protecting the immediate 5 feet within the home.

Fire safety tips from Fire District 3 and the WSU Extension Forestry Program include:

Make sure there are no combustible objects within 5 feet of the home, like firewood.

Replace mulch landscaping with stone and fire-resistive plants.

Clean up debris close to the house.

Avoid cedar roofing as it is the most combustible roofing type. Stick with metal, clay or composite instead. The same goes for decking materials.

Contact Clark Public Utilities to clear overhanging branches from utility lines.

Locate the closest water source, and have enough hose to reach every part of your yard.

Shults said regularly clearing brush damages more than it helps in Western ecosystems because of its density and rapid growth.

To learn more about wildfire preparedness, the WSU Extension Master Gardener program is hosting an online workshop about creating a fire defensible home.

Those interested must use an existing Zoom account or create a new one to log into the meeting. The workshop starts at 6 p.m. on June 30. For questions, contact Gary Fredricks at garyf@wsu.edu.

Clark County residents can also view more fire prevention tips at fire3.org/wildland-pre paredness-tips.

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