Firefighters: Now's the time to prevent our next big wildfire

    Firefighters: Now's the time to prevent our next big wildfire

    Tri-Cities firefighters say they’re already preparing for wildfire season.

    And with our wetter-than-usual winter and forecasted early, dry summer, they say you should prepare too.

    They said folks don’t have to wait for the snow to melt to start working on a plan of action.

    More water means more grass, something Fire chief Lonnie Click says he’s seen before.

    "Most of the time when that occurs we have a pretty significant grassland fire-season,” Click said. “We're setting records in March, we're setting records in February, so of course that leaves us concerned.”

    Click is the chief over Benton County Fire District 1 (BCFD1), and says more grass means more fires because grasses growing wild around the Tri-Cities won’t stay green for long.

    He says we saw it last year when five houses on the south end of Kennewick burned during the Bofer Canyon Fire.

    RELATED: Neighbors surveying damage after fast-moving wildfire destroys multiple Kennewick homes

    BCFD1 Battalion Chief Don Taylor says he’s worried something like that will happen again this year.

    "That situation and that scenario is available everywhere in the Tri-Cities," he said.

    Taylor was the incident commander on the Bofer Canyon Fire.

    "It was a career fire,” he explained. “The kind of fire someone like me will see once in my career. Everything came together for that to be an unfortunate, but perfect storm for the Tri-Cities," he said.

    BC Taylor says something the 2018 fire could easily happen again, especially with new neighborhoods popping up in the middle of all that fuel.

    He says now is the time for homeowners to prepare by creating a non-flammable space around your home.

    "Don't have bushes that are twenty years old with high fuel-moisture such as an arborvitae right next to your house," Taylor explained. "You need to take that stuff out, plant something that is fire-resistant and you'll have a much better chance of not having to meet us."

    WSU Master Gardener Al Murphy says arborvitae and other popular evergreen shrubs are extremely flammable.

    "Pull out the arborvitae," he said.

    Especially if it’s anywhere near your house.

    Murphy is begging homeowners to establish 100-feet of defensible space around your house, called the Home Ignition Zone.

    He says creating an ignition-free zone around your house is the best way to prevent the kind of losses seen in Bofer Canyon.

    The master gardener says keeping the area immediately around our house “lean, clean and green” reduces risk by reducing fuel wildfires need to spread house to house.

    "Once you get beyond that distance it doesn't matter what really happens,” he said. “The heat of the fire won't catch a home on fire."

    Murphy says landscaping plays an important part in whether or not fire crews are actually able to save your house and he’s asking folks to do it for the firefighters.

    "That's what I think people need to concentrate on,” he said. “If you can't give them a safe place from which to work, you're asking the impossible task."

    "Defensible space is huge," Chief Click agreed. "[Wildfire season] may back up into June so you need to be prepared for it."

    Taylor says it’s not if a fast-moving wildfire happens again, but when.

    "If that weather pattern comes together we'll have that same event in a different location.”

    But he hopes proper planning makes Tri-Cities’ next big fire a less destructive one.

    Fire Landscape Zones:

    • (0-5 feet) Landscape Zone 1: In this zone, the goal is to prevent ignitions on or near a structure.
      - Plant no trees or shrubs.
      - Use only inorganic mulch. (Rubber mulch is not acceptable for use.)
      - Plant fire-resistant plants with high moisture content.

    • (5-30 feet) Landscape Zone 2: In this zone, the goal is to prevent spread of a fires ignited embers or other ignition sources.
      - Plant single trees that are pruned at least 10’ from the ground.
      - Plant single shrubs. Keep well groomed.
      - Clean up dead fuels.
      - Eliminate continuous ground fuel and ladder fuels.

    • (30-100+ feet) Landscape Zone 3: In this zone, the goal is to reduce the heat generated by a fire (intensity) as it gets closer to a structure.
      - Maintain well-spaced trees with crowns well separated.
      - Eliminate ladder fuels.
      - Minimize ground/surface fuels.
      - Keep shrubs pruned, thinned, and well-spaced.

    • List of trees recommended for the Tri-Cities: 2018 Community Tree List.
    • More questions? Contact the experts at WSU Extension of Benton-Franklin Counties.

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