Wildfire hazard increases with dry days
April 30, 2009 · Updated 3:08 PM
By Teresa Herriman, The Courier-Herald
Predictions for a grim wildfire season are spreading faster than wind-fanned flames.
Unseasonably warm temperatures this spring have national fire managers upgrading forecasts for fire conditions in the West from bad to worse.
Warm weather has melted what was a significant snowpack that was meant to mitigate years of drought. According to the Bureau of Land Management, the greatest threat for wildfires is in the Pacific Northwest, the Northern Rockies of Idaho and Montana and the Southwest, including Southern California.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources said they have already fought 60 small fires this year, up from the usual 20. Conditions in area forests, they said, are as dry as they typically are in late July or August.
With more and more residents building homes nestled in the woods, local fire officials are encouraging homeowners to take precautions.
"That natural beauty can be a tremendous advantage, but it can be a tremendous disadvantage if (homeowners) don't consider the risks," Fire Marshal John McDonald said. McDonald is also assistant fire chief of operations and prevention at East Pierce Fire and Rescue.
East Pierce has created a small group of firefighters to combat wildfires in its jurisdiction. The East Pierce Wildland Firefighting team includes career and volunteer firefighters, trained to manage the extra physical requirements of battling wildland fires.
Three wildland rigs are available to respond to any fire in the region as mutual aid or in the state through a request from the state's Department of Natural Resources.
On a wildland call, firefighters face specific hazards such as locating homes that are often at the end of a long, narrow driveway that provides poor access for firefighting equipment.
Rural residents face fire threats from inside and outside their homes. However, McDonald said, there are a number of things residents can do to help reduce the risk of fire.
Firewise, a nationwide program, provides a checklist for those building homes in underdeveloped areas. A landscaping checklist is also available to assist homeowners in creating and maintaining a survivable space around their home. Many of the changes are simple and relatively low-cost.
McDonald suggests potential homeowners consider the history of the area. Have there been fires before? If so, how often?
Hills are often desirable locations, especially with the views around Bonney Lake. However, the top of a hill can present a particular problems for defending a home from a fire, since fire moves swiftly up slopes.
"If you want to have the beautiful view, you want to clear everything below you," McDonald said. Removing potential fuel for a fire up to 100 feet on the downslope can mean the difference between your home surviving a fire or not.
"It's important people take these steps ahead of time to help us protect their home," he added. "Critical decisions really do make a difference."
For complete checklists, visit the Firewise Web site at www.firewise.org or call East Pierce Fire and Rescue at 253-863-1800 for assistance in identifying potential fire hazards.
Teresa Herriman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org