Fire doesn’t wait. Neither should we.
As if the early and severe 2014 fire season wasn’t a good enough reminder to us, the fact that the entire State of Washington has a declared drought should be. Wildfire does not wait for August or even July. Wildfire is a natural part of our ecosystem in Washington (both in timbered areas and in sagebrush) and it can occur anytime there is no snow on the ground. Fire is as much a part of our landscape as the Columbia River. And like those who settled the west, we must adapt our way of life to fit the environment in which we live.
Adaptation should be nothing new to us in Washington. Generations before us came here to thrive. Their unconquerable pioneer spirit, present in all of us who live here, is one of the very best parts of our communities. It connects us to our neighbors and those same connections make us resilient. If a neighbor is ill, ten others take food and offer comfort. If a fire displaces a family, the community is there to provide shelter and support. If a wildfire takes over 350 homes, the outpouring of support, clothing and materials is eye-opening. Resilience is a beautiful thing; it allows us to stand when we should be on our knees. But we must not wait to adapt to our environment or to develop the connections that make us resilient. Fire does not wait. Mudslides do not wait. Emergencies, in general, do not wait. So it is up to us to prepare and we must do it now.
Steps to prepare
Create defensible space around your property, prune branches that would allow fire to touch your home and clear your gutters. Move firewood at least 30 feet from your home and remove the stuff stored under your deck. Examine the mesh screens that cover your attic and foundation vents. Replace those screens with 1/8” or smaller metal mesh. Clean gutters and clear roofs of pine needles and debris.
The primary threat to your home during a wildfire is usually small embers. When you walk around your home, look at the area immediately (within five feet) surrounding it and remove bark mulch and vegetation touching your structure. Don’t give any ember a receptive place to land.
Make a plan to evacuate your family in the event of an emergency and develop a kit to take with you. Talk to your neighbors about making their property defensible; our neighborhoods are safer if we all work together. This is certainly a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Resources to help you prepare
Resources are available if you are in need of assistance. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources has cost-share programs available to landowners. These programs help reduce the cost of creating defensible space and managing your land. You can find the application online.
The American Red Cross and www.ready.gov have websites full of information on emergency preparedness and both www.firewise.org and www.facnetwork.org offer a wealth of information as well. People searching for more information can also contact the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition.
Part of living in the west is learning to live with the cards we are dealt. It is no different with respect to wildfire. We can, and must, change our perspective to include wildfire as a part of our landscape. For those of us living in eastern Washington, that means we must recognize fire is both possible and probable. We must also recognize that by being prepared we can make a difference. But please don’t wait. The fire won’t.
By Annie Schmidt, director, Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition