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Spokane County develops wildfire protection plan

A plan for reducing wildfire danger in Spokane County calls for restrictions on building materials and a requirement for sprinklers in houses among other far-reaching goals.

“We’re thinking big here,” said plan coordinator Janean Creighton, of the WSU Extension’s Spokane County office. “Some of these things may never come to pass, but that’s what we came up with.”

Counties throughout the country prepare such plans to compete for federal fire-prevention grants. In Washington, county commissioners must approve the plans, and the state Department of Natural Resources uses them to apply for federal money.

Creighton is accepting public comments on the plan through 5 p.m. Sept. 12, but county commissioners haven’t set a date for final action.

One of the recommendations calls for residential sprinklers to keep house fires from becoming wildfires.

According to Deputy Fire Marshal Norm Loftin, of the Spokane Valley Fire Department, residential fire sprinklers serve primarily to ensure the safety of occupants.

They are less robust versions of the interior sprinklers already required in triplexes, apartments, offices, stores and industrial buildings.

Any requirement for sprinklers in houses and duplexes probably would have to be limited to new construction. Loftin said it would be “extremely difficult and very costly” to add sprinklers to existing homes.

Even in new construction, sprinkler systems aren’t cheap.

“It would add, I’m going to guess, about $10,000 to the cost of a new house,” Loftin said.

More information about sprinklers is available from the National Fire Sprinkler Association, on the Web at www.nfsa.org.

Here are some highlights from the proposed Spokane County Community Wildfire Protection Plan:

•Consider a county policy on wooden roofing materials and flammable siding in areas prone to wildfires.

•Improve collaboration between the county government and fire departments on subdivision plats and other planning issues.

•Identify areas that would be difficult to enter or leave during a fire. Publicize and improve evacuation plans.

•Provide incentives for new utility lines to be underground.

•Put the wildfire plan goals into the county comprehensive land-use plan.

•Gather public support for new regulations to improve fire safety in rural subdivisions.

•Develop a plan for reducing brush and other fuels at recreational areas, trailheads and other “high-use” locations.

•Create a Spokane County fire marshal’s office.

•Assess homes for wildfire danger and take steps to make them safer through creation of “defensible space,” reduction of fuels, and use of less-flammable building materials and landscaping.

•Seek public support for a levy to improve the fire communications center that serves departments throughout the county.

•Develop weight restrictions for private bridges.

•Encourage utility companies to keep power-line corridors free of trees, brush and other debris.

•Develop incentives for recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters.

•Identify populated areas with inadequate water supplies and find sources of water for fighting fires.

The plan also outlines numerous needs, mainly for equipment, in individual fire districts and departments.

Copies of the plan are available at libraries throughout the county and an electronic version is available at www.spokaneprepares.org.

Comments will be accepted through 5 p.m. Sept. 12. They may be e-mailed to jcreighton@spokanecounty .org or mailed to: Janean Creighton, WSU Extension, 222 N. Havana St., Spokane, WA 99202-4799.

For more information, call Creighton at 477-2199 or Steve Harris, with the state Department of Natural Resources, at 684-7474.

Reach staff writer John Craig by e-mail at johnc@spokesman.com.


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