It’s time to start preparing for fire season

By John E. Pennington | Jun 05, 2013

Director, Snohomish County, WA Department of Emergency Management Adjunct Faculty – FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute — We must all be in the disaster-preparedness business, and when disasters strike we quickly become potential first-responders. Our wet and very “green” spring in Western Washington reminds us that fire season in the Pacific Northwest is right around the corner, and it is imperative that we not allow complacency (especially with wildfires) to create unnecessary tragedy in our homes, neighborhoods and communities.

Many of us along the I-5/I-405 corridor tend to think of wildfires as only occurring in a “wilderness area” or “east of the mountains.” And while fires west of the Cascade Mountains do occur less frequently, they contain the heightened potential of creating far greater devastation to our communities and public infrastructure.

The most common culprit of wildfires in our beautiful part of Washington is carelessness or lack of concern regarding campfires, cigarettes and catalytic converters. So, know your local ordinances on campfires or outdoor fire pits, simply use your ash tray (if you smoke), and be very mindful of where you park in the height of summer. Your catalytic converter and muffler get hot enough to start fires when parking upon dying grass.

Wildfires demand specific precautions around your home – for once a wildfire is advancing toward a home or community, it is often too late to do anything but evacuate. I strongly encourage communities to talk with their local fire department/district or forestry office, and stay apprised of local burn bans and changing weather conditions. Simply stated: Gain a better understanding of when fire risks are elevated.

Talk with your neighbors (a community is only as safe as its least-prepared member). Evaluate your exposure to wildfire. Consider the fire resistance of your home, the typography of your property and surrounding vegetation; identify and maintain an adequate supply of emergency water; assemble a disaster-supply kit and develop and rehearse your family disaster plan; and inspect your house and property on a regular basis.

For tips on how to assess whether your home is at risk and what you can do to mitigate that risk, please visit www.firewise.org. From there, increase your knowledge, and then take action. In some cases, the simple balancing of conventional landscaping techniques with sound wildfire mitigation practices is all that’s required for you to enjoy your summer without worrying about the potential for losing your home to an out-of-control wildfire.

Initial steps should include creating a Safety Zone or Defensible Perimeter by:

• Clearing flammable debris well away from structures and phone or power poles.

• Cutting back flammable weeds and brush, and removing branches within 15 feet of the ground.

• Mowing regularly and raking leaves, limbs and twigs.

• Removing vines from the walls of your home and pruning tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of stovepipes and chimneys.

• Keeping roofs, chimneys and gutters clean.

• Installing smoke detectors on every floor and near sleeping areas.

• Stacking firewood away from your home and storing combustible materials only in approved containers.

• Keeping fire tools (shovel, rake, water bucket and ladders) handy.

Finally, don’t overlook adequate insurance coverage for your home. Call or sit down with your insurance agent and make sure that your coverage is still adequate and up to date for the hazards you face (remembering that your community and its risks have likely changed during the past decade).

Summer is a wonderful time for those of us in Western Washington – we truly earn our sunshine and warm days. But we each have a responsibility to “adjust” our preparedness vision to the risks and hazards we face during each season. Let’s not forget about our wildfire risk as we get started preparing for a great summer!

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