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SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER
2021, OUR 25TH YEAR

 
 
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WILDFIRE PREVENTION AT HOME, CAMPSITE AND ON TRAIL
 
 
Story by Lynn Rosen, photos by Lynn Rosen, Steve Giordano and as attributed
 

  Firefighters working   Firefighters with hoses  
 
Extreme wildfire danger is prevalent across the entire globe this 2021 season. pxhere.com
 

There are not enough firefighters so military is now being trained to fight fires.
www.rt.com

 

Fire danger due to extreme temperatures, increased winds, and prolonged drought in the early summer months, has caused the Western regions of the North American continent to be placed under burn bans and eagle-eye watch. In early September, more than 300 wildfires were raging in British Columbia alone. About 70 percent of these active fires were likely caused by lightning strikes. Washington state has responded to nearly twice as many fires as of early September, many on the west side of the Cascades.

Multiple governors have declared states of emergency and disaster, and proclaimed red flag warnings due to this high risk of wildfires. If and when conditions become threateningly dangerous, California’s electric utilities have agreed to pre-emptively shut down power lines, known as a Public Safety Power Shutoff or PSPS.

PROTECT YOUR HOME

  Forest fire, firefighter, hose   It’s never too late to make efforts to prevent fires whether you’re camping or staying inside your home out of the smokey air. Here are some practical ways to prepare your home, reduce risks that can make your house safer during a wildfire, and prevent potential sparks and mistakes that could start or contribute to a wildfire while camping and hiking.  
 
Even a garden hose can provide some protection. www.climatesignals.org
     

Here's a story NIGHT OF THE INFERNO about saving one's home with garden hoses (and the help of a firefighter who was over for dinner). The author made a scary choice to not evacuate and it paid off.

  Flammable "fire ladder"   Trees after trimming off "fire ladder"  
 
Evergreens originally planted as attractive landscaping have overgrown.
Jenny Coe, Whatcom Conservation District


Removal of underbrush and lower branch trimming reduced "fire ladder" risk.
Steve Giordano

 
  Flammable juniper bush   Trimmed fire hazard juniper  
 
Evergreens became overgrown and
crowd the mailbox.
Lynn Rosen
Trimmed junipers and cleared underbrush reduce fire risk. Lynn Rosen
 

Evergreen shrubs or trees like these, originally planted as attractive landscaping five to 30 feet from your house, now, with low branches and overgrown underbrush, provide a flammable tinder box for embers, and then flames. Trim branches six to 20 feet from the ground, remove flammable plants, install non-combustible mulches, fire-resistant plants and/or crushed stone and gravel in the flower beds next to your house and maintain vegetation annually. The first five feet immediately surrounding your home should be a non-flammable zone. Clear any obvious brush and have it hauled away to a safe deposit area.

  Class A composition shingle roof  

When choosing new roofing, consider Class A composition shingles or metal for best protection from embers and/or flames.

Make sure the roof and gutters are cleaned and free of tree debris that can act as a fuel bed for burning embers. Regularly maintain and clear roof and gutters.

 
 
This Class A composition shingle roof reduces fire risk. Barbara Viz Howard
     
         
 

The vents at the top of the exterior walls often have screening over the holes for bird-blocking.

All screening vents (except the dryer vent) should be 1/8” metal mesh in order to keep embers out that can do damage or destroy the home.

Check all vents around the outside of the house for the appropriate sized screening.

  Unscreened house vents  
     
Take care with the size of screening over your vents to prevent embers from blowing into the insulation. Jenny Coe, WCD
 
         
  Firewood pile too close to house   Scrap wood pile next to house is gone  
 
Wood pile is stacked too close to house.
Jenny Coe, WCD
All scrap wood has been cleared from side of house. Steve Giordano
 

Do not store flammable materials (firewood, wood scraps, charcoal gas cans, etc.) next to the house as embers could blow in, lodge, smolder and eventually catch the siding on fire.

  House deck fire hazard   Deck close to blackberries  
  The deck is solidly connected to the length of the house. Jenny Coe, WCD   There is risk to the deck of embers from adjacent blackberries. Jenny Coe, WCD  

If it’s attached to the house, it’s part of the house. Decks and fences that are attached to the house can also carry fire to it. Places where tree debris tends to collect (in the deck corners and cracks where the deck board meets the siding on the house) is the same place where embers will collect when they are picked up by the wind. Embers landing in dry, dead vegetation allows them to smolder and gain heat intensity, thereby igniting deck board and/or siding. Regular sweeping or using a leaf blower to remove that debris can make a big difference.

  Fire hazard brush near house   Fire hazard brush near house trimmed away  
 
Cyprus and surrounding brush before trimming. Jenny Coe, WCD
Cyprus trimmed and underbrush cleared, reducing fire risk. Lynn Rosen
 

Keep junipers, cedars, cyprus and all trees surrounding and near your house trimmed so that there are no branches near the ground. This reduces the ability of fire to climb from vegetation on the round up into taller tree branches where it is more difficult to manage. Keep in mind that evergreens don’t have to have dead needles to feed a fire. They are extremely flammable even when green and healthy due to the presence of pitch.

  Blackberry brambles are a fire risk   Blackberry brambles are a fire hazard  
 
This blackberry thicket close to the house poses a great wildfire risk. Steve Giordano
Undergrowth of this blackberry thicket is dry and a wildfire danger. Jenny Coe, WCD
 
         
  Bulldozing blackberries   Bulldozed blackberry field  
 
To get rid of blackberries, bulldozing is the quickest and most efficient means.
Steve Giordano
A huge risk of wildfire has been reduced through the elimination of this former blackberry thicket. Steve Giordano
 

This mass of blackberries covering the entire adjacent lot is quite flammable. In large thickets like this there are typically a lot of dead canes under all the green which will rapidly carry fire. The best solution is to bulldoze to get rid of the root balls and debris. Blackberries are an invasive species and quite tenacious. This lot will need constant root-pulling, trimming and/or re-seeding with a cover crop such as crimson clover, which is a weed retardant. Regular mowing often will take care of keeping the bushes at bay once the root balls have been eradicated.

Blackberry roots
This is just one of the blackberry root balls. Under the field just bulldozed,
there were hundreds of them.
Steve Giordano

The bulk of this section of the story was sourced from a Whatcom Conservation District wildfire risk report done by Jenny Coe, Resource Specialist, Community Wildfire Resilience. She also provided many of the images used here which were originally included in her thorough assessment report for the homeowners. Check with your local conservation districts to inquire about free fire risk assessments on your home.

For further information regarding wildfire risk reduction and how to make your house safer during wildfire season, visit https://www.whatcomcd.org/wildfire. Although this link refers specifically to Whatcom County, WA, the information you’ll find there is relevant to wildfire prevention anywhere on the globe.

HIKE AND CAMP RESPONSIBLY

 

If you’re away from home on a hiking or camping trip and find yourself near a wildfire zone, here are a few tips for wildfire safety.

By following these guidelines, you can also help firefighters and make a difference down the road to keep trails and campgrounds safe and available for others.

  Hikers  
     
Do your research before you hit the trails. www.fitday.com
 

Before you go, check for current fires in the area where you’re headed. Apple’s free Wildfire Fire App and Weather Underground for Iphone and Android list bans, closures, etc. Also check air quality to see where you should go and where you should not - or if you ought to just stay home.

Familiarize yourself with the geographical area and the surrounding road and highway systems. Make a plan B for evacuation just in case you happen to get cut off. Be sure to tell family and friends where you’re going and for how long. And stay in touch with someone. This is especially life-saving-important if a fire risk develops.

  Bonfire   Cooking pot over fire  
 
Before lighting a fire, make sure there’s no burn ban. pxhere.com
Clear the surrounding area before you ignite and start cooking. www.pinterest.com
 

If fires are allowed where you’re hiking or camping, make sure that you both build and put out your fire responsibly. If there is no elevated BBQ device or established fire pit at your campsite, clear back any other nearby flammable debris and make your own solid fire ring. NEVER leave your fire unattended and make sure it is completely out before leaving the site or retiring for the night. If it’s too hot to touch with the back of your hand, it’s too hot to leave it. If you’re using a portable stove, be extremely careful. It goes without saying, but use only approved camp stoves. Of course, if there is a burn ban in place, there is no excuse for having a fire or lighting a camp stove. Have a cold meal instead.

This may seem trivial, but many wildfires are started by sparks from a dragging metal chain. If you’re pulling a trailer, make sure the hitch chain is not hitting the ground as you drive. You would probably never even notice that just one small spark behind you had begun to cause smoldering embers alongside the roadway.

Hiker with cat in backpack
Treat the wilderness with respect. Your human and animal
families will thank you for it.
www.lizcat.com

Even if you’ve made long-standing plans to hike or camp, if, on your way to your destination, cautions about fire danger develop and you feel uncomfortable or that it might be questionable for you to continue, just turn around. There will always be another time, another plan, another trail or campground. But, as the song says, there will never be another you.

For more information and tips on backcountry hiking and camping, visit:

https://www.campendium.com/camping/camping-with-wildfires
https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/the-best-wildfire-trackers/

  Lynn Rosen is an Emmy award-winning TV broadcaster, producer and director, and has been on the Journalism and Theatre faculties at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. She’s also a theater critic, travel writer, published author, fearless skier and belongs to the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) and the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).   Lynn Rosen