It’s been a long, dry fire season in the Inland Northwest, putting us at risk for a major fire event. The 1991 firestorm, our region’s worst urban fire event, occurred 21 years ago next week.
In the past few years there has been a concerted effort around Spokane to do “firewise” planning. The Washington Department of Natural Resources, the Spokane Conservation District, various fire districts, neighborhoods and communities have teamed up to thin brush and trees around vulnerable areas so that fire won’t get a strong foothold when it does start. Yes, I said “when” not “if.”
One such project is taking place in stages along the High Drive Bluff on Spokane’s South Hill. The steep slopes down into the Latah Valley have long been seen as a serious fire hazard because any fires that start on the slope could quickly sweep up the bluff to the crowded South Hill.
A couple of years ago, a group of residents formed the Friends of the High Drive Bluff to begin dealing with not only the potential fire hazard, but also the overuse of the informal trail system. Hikers, runners and dog walkers use the trail network to exercise, observe wildlife and enjoy the spectacular views of the Latah Valley. Early efforts have focused on repairing many of the more popular trails; blocking off improperly used shortcuts to reduce erosion in the steep, sandy soil; controlling noxious weeds; and thinning dense thickets of trees and brush.
The group spent most of its efforts this year creating ribbon firebreaks along the trails by clearing brush, small trees and weeds to leave a reduced vegetation zone. These narrow firebreaks are wide enough to slow a fire’s progress and keep it on the ground where it is easier to fight and less likely to jump into the nearby treetops. In parallel with the group’s efforts, the city of Spokane has been using $50,000 in grant funding to do extensive forest health remediation on city park land on the north end of the bluff.
Now the group needs the community’s help to finish this year’s work.
Today the group invites the community to its last firewise work day to see what volunteers have accomplished and put some sweat equity into protecting the South Hill by helping haul pruned branches and brush up to High Drive for recycling.
The event will run from 9 a.m. to noon. People are asked to meet at High Drive and 33rd Avenue with gloves and sturdy shoes. Families and children at least 10 years old are encouraged to participate. Registration is preferred, and the first 50 volunteers to sign up will receive a bandanna to mark their effort.
To sign up, contact Diana Roberts at WSU Spokane County Extension by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (509) 477-2167.