With mountain snowpacks running 75 percent below seasonal averages and drought conditions projected throughout the Pacific Northwest, emergency managers are braced for a potentially lengthy and intense fire season. Scores of brush, range and timber fires have already flared up in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, and according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security FEMA Regional Director John Pennington, its not too soon for homeowners to wade into the fray.
This last winter was the fifth driest in over 100 years, for both sides of the Cascades. With almost unlimited fuels and denser underbrush, western wildfires can burn hotter than their eastern counterparts, can be even more difficult for firefighters to combat, and can threaten more densely populated communities, said Pennington. An aware, responsible and committed public can play a major role in saving lives and safeguarding property, particularly in Western Washington and Oregon.
In an "average" fire year, 106,400 wildfires burn over 4 million acres of land across the United States.
In addition to exercising extreme caution with campfires, fireworks, trash fires, grills and other heat sources, Pennington encourages all homeowners to embrace the common sense commitment to pre-disaster wildfire mitigation accepted in more traditionally recognized wildfire-prone areas.
Now is the time to create defensible perimeters by clearing flammable debris away from homes and structures, particularly those in urban interface areas and near forested tracts. Cut back flammable weeds and brush, and trim tree branches up at least 15 feet, said Pennington. Of course, fire escapes and evacuation plans are a must, and should include current phone numbers for emergency service providers, just in case. By all means make sure property entrances are clearly posted, and consider expanding roads and driveways (12 to 16 feet wide), with adequate emergency vehicle turnaround space.
Additional steps to protect your home from wildfire include:
For a free copy of FEMAs 200 plus-page comprehensive guide to citizen preparedness, Are You Ready? Log on to www.fema.gov, or call 1-800-BE READY.
The worst wildland fire in recorded U.S. history occurred during August 1910, when the Great Idaho fire burned 3 million acres of Idaho and Montana, and claimed 85 lives.
In May 2000, the "Cerro Grande" fire near Los Alamos, New Mexico burned 47,650 acres while destroying 235 structures, many of them family homes.