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News / Clark County News

Wildfire mitigation begins at home; how to get prepared

Commonsense steps with landscape, construction key

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 2, 2023, 6:13am

Wildfire mitigation doesn’t begin when suppression crews battle flames racing through a community.

Meaningful steps start on an individual level, whether it’s in an urban or rural area, said Charlie Landsman, Washington Department of Natural Resources community resilience coordinator. Homes offer a crucial ingredient for combustion: fuel. This can look like leaf and pine litter in gutters, exposed wood under a loose roof shingle or a tree branch hanging too close to a porch.

When fuel mixes with oxygen and heat, it’s simple for a flame to quickly grow. An inciting ember, whether naturally occurring or human caused, can drift from outside someone’s property line and catch on small pieces of flammable material.

“If a home does not ignite, it won’t burn,” Landsman said.

That’s why the best way to be prepared is to take fuel out of the equation, or at least minimize it as much as possible. It’s a proactive measure that can vary based on a homeowner’s property, budget and lifestyle, meaning everyone can make a difference in wildfire mitigation, he said.

Here are the basics:

  • Reduce risk

Homeowners should use fire-resistant building materials when possible and limit flammable vegetation within three ignition zones: the immediate zone (zero to 5 feet around a home), intermediate zone (5 to 30 feet) and extended zone (30 to 100 feet).

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Columbia River Gorge communities aren’t the only ones coming to terms with increasing fire danger in the wildland-urban interface.
Wildfire mitigation begins at home; how to get prepared
Wildfire mitigation doesn’t begin when suppression crews battle flames racing through a community.

Trim tree branches that hang over porches, decks and roofs, as well as prune tall trees up to 10 feet from the ground. Taking these steps will reduce ember ignitions from catching and spreading. Remove plants that have resins, oils and waxes and avoid using flammable mulch.

  • Prioritize fire-resistive construction

Inspect shingles and roof tiles that may be damaged and repair them to avoid embers from creeping in. Roof and attic vents should have screens for the same reason. Clear flammable materials and debris from porches and underneath decks. Fire-resistant roofing, such as metal, concrete and clay tiles, provide the best protection, as does siding made of brick, fiber cement, plaster or stucco.

  • Have a plan

Every household should have an emergency action plan in case a fire prompts an evacuation. This may include how to handle pets and livestock or how to get out of your neighborhood during a fire event. Opt into an annual insurance policy checkup and update your home’s inventory to settle claims faster.

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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Columbian staff writer