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Washington Voices

Take steps now to protect your home from wildfire

Sat., May 5, 2012

This is Wildfire Awareness Week in Washington. It is a reminder that in the Inland Northwest, it’s not if we have a wildfire; it’s when the next one happens. We only have to look back to 2008 when a windstorm and an unattended campfire leveled 11 homes and blackened more than 1,000 acres during the Valleyview fire in urban Spokane.

To help the community get ready for the upcoming fire season, local fire and land management agencies are hosting two fire awareness and planning events. The first will be a Firewise Community Open House Friday evening, at the Woodland Center at Finch Arboretum. The Washington Department of Natural Resources, the Spokane Conservation District, Avista, Spokane Urban Forestry, the Palisades community and local fire districts will have information on how to prepare your home, property and community for a wildfire.

On May 12, the agencies will put on demonstrations of various thinning and fuel reduction methods that will improve the fire safety environment around your home and land. The event will be at Palisades Park and is part of the Palisades community’s effort to become a firewise community. There will also be a hike at 12:30 p.m. through the Palisades to view flora, fauna and the area’s unique geology and history. Both events are free.

Want to get a head start on your preparations as you do spring cleanup? Clean needles and leaves out of gutters regularly. Move firewood and flammable mulches away from structures. Sparks can land in them and easily ignite the structure. Enclose the space under decks. If your roof needs replacing, use the best fire-resistant materials available.

Rake up fallen leaves, needles and cones near structures especially in areas where the wind tends to pile them. A wind-carried spark will land in the same areas. Replace small evergreens and junipers planted within 30 feet of the house with more fire resistant plants. Limb up larger evergreens at least 12 feet off the ground and thin out dead, twiggy material from shrubs to reduce the potential of fire moving from the ground into the crown of the trees. Denying fuel to a fire and keeping it on the ground goes a long way toward fighting it when it happens.

Mow grass regularly around the house or plant grasses that stay low. Keep your landscape watered and green to slow a fire. A 2-foot tall stand of dry grass will support an 8-foot tall column of flame. Lastly, to protect your escape route, trim trees and brush away from your driveway and post your address on a metal or nonflammable stand at its entrance so firefighters can easily locate it.

A last note: Creating a fire resistant landscape and defensible space around your house will not guarantee that your house won’t burn in fire. Getting ready for a fire merely increases the possibilities of surviving one.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@inlandnw

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