Our Northwest

Free help protects my property from wildfire

Thursday, April 16, 2015by  Jon Osterberg

I feel better protected against wildfires now, thanks to free help from local Firewise partners.
   A work crew came to my rural property with a large chipper shredder, and one by one, the crew chipped 20 large piles of tree limbs and bushes I’d stacked alongside the road. These folks were from Kittitas County Fire District 7, assigned to my place by Kittitas County Conservation District (KCCD).
    KCCD strives to offer this public service every year. But because of our mild, dry winter – and a forecast for an early wildfire season – KCCD chose to help homeowners groom their property early this year, in March and April. Typically this “Firewising” happens in May.
   As soon as I heard about it, I filled out an application and took advantage of the help. Check with your local conservation district to see what programs might be available to you.
   My wife and I bought our cabin 10 years ago. It sits on a wooded hillside near Cle Elum. Once upon a time that hillside was part of a Plum Creek Timber forest, and in 2004 it was thick with 5 acres of fir, pine, and a few larch trees. See the photo, taken from our deck.
   Neighbors soon connected me with Phil Hess, a forest and land consultant who assessed our property and advised us what to do to lessen our risk of wildfire.
   That’s when I got smart about “Firewise,” a national program of best practices to reduce wildfire fuel, starve flames, and keep homes and structures intact.
   Phil suggested that I remove most of the tall trees to create a 200-foot buffer zone below my cabin, plus thin a few more to the sides and rear. At the time our cabin had mature fir trees growing literally 10 feet from its foundation, with branches overhanging the cabin roof.
   We hired a local logger, “Loggin’ Larrin” Wanechek, who cut down 32 trees. Admittedly, another key objective was to open up our view of Mt. Stuart. We got a surprise bonus when deer took a liking to our new clearing.
   Compare the before and after photos, taken from the same spot on my cabin deck. The after photo (with the red pickup) shows considerable thinning down the hill. Fire tends to burn uphill as it follows the fuel. Removing 32 trees gave our cabin a safety buffer. (And, though hidden in the clouds in this photo, a great view of the mountains.)
   I stacked the limbs into huge piles and let them dry for several months under plastic, then lit them in late winter while snow still covered the ground. Despite being primed with diesel fuel, each pile took forever to burn as I stood guard with shovel and hose. What a tedious task.
   That's another benefit of the chipping crew. The past few weeks I thinned the lower part of our acreage, sawing off all branches within 15 feet of the ground – eliminating "ladder fuel" – and lopping bushes at their base. I stacked the slash into neat piles, with sawed ends all facing the same direction. Then the KCFD7 crew came by and simply stuffed it all, both green and dry slash, into the chipper shredder, which in no time shot it out the spout as healthy mulch.
   Protecting your home from wildfire is not complicated. It just takes a little time and persistence. Trees and bushes grow, so think of it as annual spring cleaning.
   Knowing what to do is not enough, though. You must act. Don't get burned!

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