DNR FIELD NOTES
March 24, 2010
Neighbors use community wildfire protection plans to keep homes safe from fire
By Laura Ditmer
Southeast Region Manager
Washington State Department of Natural Resources
On the evening of July 28, 2009, multiple lightning strikes ignited two fires in the lower Union Valley area of Chelan. As anxious homeowners looked on, the fires spread and joined together. As strong winds picked up, many wondered if this would be a repeat of the 2001 wildfire that tore through the community, burning more than 4,000 acres.
This time, things turned out differently. Union Valley escaped major damage and no homes were lost. It was in great part due to the efforts of vigilant homeowners who vowed to use the lessons of the 2001 event. Aiding them was the Community Wildfire Protection Plan they developed under the guidance of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the knowledge they gained from the national Firewise Program.
After the destructive blaze in 2001, concerned Union Valley property owners banded together to learn how to better protect their homes and property from destructive wildfires.
Using grants from the U.S. Forest Service, DNR helped community members improve wildfire safety. Volunteer work parties began creating defensible space around homes and along primary access roads to the community. They thinned trees, cut brush and trimmed away limbs that could carry a wildfire through the community. They also created fuel breaks in forested areas to help contain spreading wildfires.
In 2004, Union Valley became the first in the State of Washington to develop a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. That plan has become a template for other communities to develop fire protection plans and, like Union Valley, become eligible for fire prevention grants that paid for shaded fuel breaks around the community.
Union Valley has been put to the test twice since developing its fire safety plan. First, was in 2007 when strong winds pushed a fire toward the community. With no hanging branches on trees nor much brush and debris on the ground to fuel the flames, the fire crept along and was easily contained to a small area.
This past summer saw the Union Valley community tested again by fire and, again, preparation paid off. Using lessons learned in Firewise workshops presented by DNR, community members have use non-flammable building materials on buildings, planed fire resistant landscaping, created ample defensible space around their homes and outbuildings, and – just as important – cleared roadsides of heavy brush for safe access into the community by fire fighters and their equipment.
Union Valley’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan also gives residents a plan for evacuation. Community members Dan and Joan Wright say the lesson learned from the successful summer of 2009 is “don’t wait until there is smoke in the air to take action.”
Tips to homes and communities safer from wildfire are on the national Firewise web site at: www.firewise.org
To find out if your community has a fire protection plan, go to www.dnr.wa.gov and search for “Community Wildfire Protection Plans.” If your community isn’t listed and you live in an outlying area where fire dangers are high, get started now. Work with your neighbors and your community’s fire district to develop a wildfire plan. The time to get started is now.
Stay up to date on wildfire events by following “waDNR_fire” on Twitter.