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Grants help homeowners cut risk of wildfire damage

While Rob Miller makes the cut with a chain saw, Travis Stragier pushes over a ponderosa pine tree on Wednesday along Charles Road in Nine Mile Falls. The DNR crew was creating defensible space around homes in the area. (Dan Pelle)
While Rob Miller makes the cut with a chain saw, Travis Stragier pushes over a ponderosa pine tree on Wednesday along Charles Road in Nine Mile Falls. The DNR crew was creating defensible space around homes in the area. (Dan Pelle)

Steve and Mary Franklin jumped at the chance for grant money to reduce wildfire risk on their 12-acre wooded property west of Nine Mile Falls.

Using a series of grants, the state Department of Natural Resources is providing free tree thinning and vegetation removal to residents in areas considered at risk of raging wildfire.

More than $5 million will be spent in Spokane, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Ferry and Okanogan counties this year. Some of that money is coming from the federal economic stimulus bill approved by Congress in 2009. The work will create an estimated 100 jobs across the region, officials said.

“To me this is worth a fortune,” said Steve Franklin of 12303 W. Charles Road during a demonstration on Wednesday.

The grants are being offered to residents by mail in higher-risk areas. Residents agree to maintain the thinned property for at least 10 years.

Fire agencies for years have preached the need for landowners to take steps to protect themselves and properties from wildfires; fewer than half of the thousands of residents living in the woods follow the recommendations, said Guy Gifford, northeast region forester for DNR.

“This grant increases the chances of homes surviving wildfires,” he said.

The Franklins had already established a 30-foot perimeter of “defensible space” around their home and shop buildings by reducing trees and shrubs and turning the forest floor to lawn and garden beds.

The grant work under way this week takes down trees and shrubs in the adjacent forest to prevent the most dangerous type of fire – a crown fire that climbs to the treetops and sweeps from top to top.

The downed trees are chipped and spread on the ground as mulch.

Gifford said the 30-foot perimeter around buildings should be complemented by tree spacing of at least five to 10 feet between tree branches and 10 to 15 feet between tree trunks. A healthy, fire-safe stand of conifers should have no more than 100 trees per acre at an average diameter of 12 inches, he said.

Combustible items such as wood piles and beauty bark should not be left next to a home during fire season. Noncombustible roofing and siding are recommended.

Homes on steeper slopes might need 100 feet of defensible space and greater separation between tree branches.

Gifford said a lot of residents fail to manage their woodland properties properly because they aren’t aware of the risk or because it is a lot of work.

Homes with defensible space are more likely to get fire protection during an out-of-control wildfire since there is a better chance that a firefighting effort will succeed, he said.

“If someone hasn’t done this type of work, it takes more resources to protect a home,” he said.



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