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Most Wildfire Structure Protection Work Is Done BEFORE We Get There

August 10, 2012

I spent a couple of days in central Washington this week assigned to protect structures at a 6500 acre wildfire.  There were about 125 homes nestled around a lake and we had 10 trucks assigned to protect them.  The fire was to the south and if it jumped lines and ran up the drainage, all of the homes would be threatened.

Structure protection groups study the neighborhood and plan for an approaching fire.  Most of the homes we looked at were in pretty good shape.  They had green lawns, fire-resistant landscaping, good road access and clearly marked addresses.

There were a couple that concerned us and there was one grand prize winner for trying to lose the house to wildfire.

The winner was backed up against a cliff with brush and trees extending right up to the rear of the house; kind of a nature preserve approach.  There was not enough room to drive a truck between the house and the rock wall behind it.  Vegetation is what holds the logs and rocks up on the steep slopes.  After fire burns the vegetation away, there is nothing holding those rocks and logs up there and they all come rolling down.  If fire had threatened this drainage, this house probably would have been damaged by rolling debris.  And as burning debris rolled down, this structure would have caught fire.

This house also had a cedar shake roof.  Anyone who’s spent any time splitting firewood knows that cedar is about the best kindling you can get.  Furthermore this roof had several years’ accumulation of pine needles layered on top of the cedar shakes.  A single ember on that roof would have ignited it quickly.

Most realtors would describe this place as ‘quaint’, ‘rustic’, or ‘natural’.  Make no mistake, it was a nice house.  Most firefighters however, would shake their heads and call it an ugly date to the prom.

Think about this from the firefighters’ perspective for a minute.  We like to save everything but there are days where that just can’t happen and we have to make tactical decisions.  If you run wildfire up that canyon at 125 homes with only 10 trucks to protect homes, we have to decide where we can do the most good.  A house built into the brush with highly ignitable roofing is at the bottom of our priority list strictly because we can do so little to save that house.

Few people look at the world like firefighters do, and that’s okay.  When it comes to homes in wildland areas, looking at your home through a firefighter’s eyes will allow you to design fire safety into your home and yard layout so you’ll still have a home standing after fire season is over.

Check out if you have questions about wildland fire safety, or call us at 509-466-4602, or e-mail me at, or leave a question on this blog.

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