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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Over half of Washington homes most at risk of wildfire are in Spokane area, report says

In this Aug. 21, 2016 file photo, a fast-moving wildfire approaches homes on the north side of Beacon Hill in Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
In this Aug. 21, 2016 file photo, a fast-moving wildfire approaches homes on the north side of Beacon Hill in Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Over 18,000 single-family homes in the Spokane-Spokane Valley area are at high risk of wildfire damage, with more than half of those rated at extreme risk, according to a new report from real estate data firm CoreLogic.

It would cost an estimated $4.2 billion to replace those homes, the company said.

More than half of all the homes in Washington that are at extreme or high risk of wildfire damage are in the Spokane area.

Another 4,500 homes in the metro area are at moderate wildfire damage risk, representing over $1 billion in reconstruction value, CoreLogic said.

The CoreLogic Wildfire Risk analysis used computer models and geographic information to examine slope, aspect and fuels to assess wildfire risk in the 13 Western states.

The analysis concluded that 98 percent of vulnerable Washington homes are at low risk of wildfire damage.

But of the 18,323 homes at extreme risk, just over half are in the Spokane area. Another 14,272 homes in the state are at high risk, with 61 percent of them in the Spokane area.

Spokane’s wildfire risk stems from its close proximity to forested areas with volatile fuels and the relatively large population extending from the urban area into the borderland between the urban and wildland areas, said CoreLogic’s senior hazard scientist, Tom Jeffery.

“Residential growth outward from cities located in areas with wildfire-based fuels – conifer forest – often puts many of those homes at risk, as well as the homes located in subdivisions on the outskirts of urban development,” Jeffery said.

So compared to other parts of Washington, the Spokane area has a large number of homes in close proximity to, or completely within, high-risk areas, he said.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources pays a lot of attention to wildfire dangers around Spokane, said Joe Smillie, spokesman for the agency.

“Some of that stemmed from Firestorm ’91, but there is a long history of wildfires in the Spokane area because it is relatively dry and elevated,” Smillie said.

“Wildfires around Spokane can also be very volatile because of the heavy winds that come out of the Columbia Basin,” he said. “If you look at a lot of the burn patterns from fires around Spokane, they look like cigars. That’s because fast winds tend to grow fires in rapid, narrow paths. Canyons and hills also tend to contain fires to narrow valleys. Those same fast winds make fires less predictable, increasing the threat to homes.”

Idaho has more than twice as many homes than Washington at extreme or high risk of damage, placing it fifth nationally behind California, Texas, Colorado and Oregon on the high end of the scale. Idaho has 67,877 homes in those high-risk categories, with a potential replacement cost of $15.4 billion.

Idaho has 41,230 homes at extreme risk and 26,647 at high risk, the CoreLogic analysis shows.

In 2015, wildfires scorched 10 million acres in the U.S. for the first time, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

The average burned acreage per year over the previous 20 years was 5.8 million acres.

DNR puts a lot of focus on trying to reduce the threat that wildfires pose to homes in Spokane’s wildland-urban interface, Smillie said. That includes reducing the amount of fire fuels, such as brush and tree thickets, on thousands of acres.

“We will be asking the Legislature in the upcoming session for $3.5 million to reduce the wildfire threat on 7,980 acres around Spokane,” he said. “We’ll also be asking for funding to do some prescribed burns in the area.”

The state has helped a dozen communities become fire-wise by taking steps such as reducing fire fuels around homes and widening streets, and it’s working with four more neighborhoods now.

“In addition, we have provided grants to nearly all of the rural fire districts around Spokane so they can have quality wildfire fighting equipment, and will be asking the legislature for another $5.5 million to add to that program in the coming biennium,” Smillie said.

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