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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on local landscape and natural history of Pend Oreille County, Washington. A partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department has allowed us to expand this program through EPA funding to include more classes, a newsletter and this website.

Wildfire Protection Starts Around Your Home

by Dr. William E. Schlosser, Northwest Management, Inc.

Wildfires are as much a part of northeast Washington’s natural environment as the trees and brushy vegetation that draw us to live here and call this area home. Because of this, so-called urban sprawl can be seen across our region as lake-front properties, and 10 acre tracts have become populated with homes and cabins. These are the places where we live and recreate. However, these homes are also within areas which have historically supported large wildfires. Little has changed in the vegetation, except now buildings are a part of the wildfire fuels.

Much has been said about protecting homes in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) over the past couple of decades, especially in the last 5 years with the passage of the National Fire Plan. Pend Oreille County has just completed a County Wildfire Mitigation Plan, and many of the neighboring counties are scheduled to follow suit in the next 2 years. The Kalispel Tribe is currently involved in developing their Fire Management Plan for the Kalispel Reservation. Nearly every county in northern Idaho has completed their wildfire mitigation plan. The Pend Oreille County effort has brought together dozens of representatives from the US Forest Service, the Washington DNR, rural fire fighters, elected officials, emergency service officials, and others. I have been privileged to work with this team as the Project Manager for the Pend Oreille County planning effort. In July, we held public meetings in Ione, Cusick, and Newport. It was my pleasure to meet and talk with over 50 local citizens who attended these meetings and to read responses from over 100 local residents to our public mail survey.

Central to the issue of WUI wildfire protection is the role homeowners have in managing wildland fuels. Researchers with the US Forest Service have suggested a defensible space of 100 to 150 feet beyond your home as the most critical area for removing flammable vegetation. In addition to this critical zone, homeowners need to look at their bigger picture of “home defensible space”, or as some Australian wildfire experts have put it, the “Asset Protection Zone”. Critically look at your access routes and the fuel around that road. Do the power lines feeding your home stretch across wildland fuels? Consider if a wildfire engine arrived at your home, could firefighters spray water or foam agent for 100 feet in all directions from your house and other buildings? If any answer is no, then this is where your efforts need to begin in order to have a reasonable expectation that your home will survive a wildfire in your area.

All too often wildfire crews are called on a fire to put the fire out before it claims lives and property. Many times, crews must be pulled off of initial attack of the fire, in favor of structure protection. The unfortunate truth is, when crews are tasked with cutting fuels around homes and making a single structure ready for the oncoming wildfire, we are fighting a losing battle. These crews would be much more effective if put on initial attack, thus limiting the size of the fire, not trying to limit the structure loss from that fire.

In June of 2005, residents of community in Utah were evacuated ahead of a raging wildfire. They were allowed to return after 3 days being away. Instead of returning to blackened hills and burned homes, they returned to find thank you notes on their doors left by the wildfire fighters. This particular community had participated in a community defensible space project which treated fuels around homes, improved access routes, converted roofing materials to non-flammable substances, and targeted fuel treatments around significant infrastructure. The wildfire fighters put their efforts to initial attack and won the battle. They left the thank you notes to the residents of that community. Would you find a thank you note on your home’s door?

Pend Oreille County Completes Wildfire Plan
Help for Homeowners Available!

On November 21, 2005, the Pend Oreille Commissioners signed into effect a Community Wildfire Protection Plan for Pend Oreille County, the first county-wide plan in Washington State. It is available for review on the Pend Oreille County website: http://www.co.pend-oreille.wa.us
Next step: action!

A variety of cost-share programs are (or will soon be) available to help forest homeowners reduce the risk of wildfire damage before a wildfire happens. This assistance can range from a free advisory site visit from a forester or fire fighter to having a crew show up and cut brush, thin trees, and treat slash to make your property safer. For Pend Oreille County and N. Stevens County, your contact to find out more about these services is Cliff Thresher, Forest Stewardship Coordinator for the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at 509 684-7474 extension 2715. Call soon, and take steps to protect your home!

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