Lean, clean and green: Spruce up “defensible space” this spring

Lean, clean and green: Spruce up “defensible space” this spring

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Underwood Conservation District provides services to support residents to be “Firewise” in advance of wildfire season.

For those of us who live outside of town, especially, thinking on spring should bring to mind not just planting a garden or fixing the fence, but sprucing up our defensible space. We live in wildfire country. Yes, valiant volunteers are often on hand, but keeping our homes safe from wildfire is first and foremost our responsibility.

This is true for the entire gorge, including rainier areas like western Skamania County.  We have witnessed severe drought conditions in recent years, and even if the coming year is not a drought year, rampant growth of brush and grasses increases the volume of wildfire fuels.

Underwood Conservation District (UCD), the local non-regulatory natural resources agency, has been supporting Skamania and western Klickitat County residents’ reduction of wildfire hazards for several years. UCD offers free, on-site wildfire hazard assessments, a popular mobile chipping service, and, for rural residents with more work than they can handle, cost-share funding to help get it done professionally.

Information about these services is available at the UCD website or call  509-493-1936 to speak to a UCD Firewise technician

Being “Firewise” isn’t a once-or-never idea: It’s about improving your home’s “defensible space,” the 100-200-foot zone around a house that, with some upkeep, can be forested and yet maximize the odds of that house surviving a wildfire. These maintenance steps are well-researched and have demonstrated effectiveness.

Keeping one’s defensible space “clean, lean and green,” as some fire officials say, basically means removing readily-ignitable debris around the outside of a house and outbuildings, and limbing up trees, especially evergreens, to eliminate “ladder fuels” from the ground to the trees’ crowns. A crown fire is much more destructive than a wildfire moving slowly along the ground and grass.

A useful list of defensible space tips are listed in the sidebar to this article. An introduction to the concept of defensible space can be found online here.

Creating defensible space doesn’t mean losing your stream buffer, wildlife habitat, or visual screening.  Through a free, on-site home assessment UCD’s Firewise technicians can help you craft a tailored Firewise plan that addresses specific goals for your property. Replacing fire-prone vegetation with more fire-resistant species is one good approach.

Don’t overthink this spring’s wildfire-prep. It can be a simple 1-2-3 plan:


     One: Call UCD for a free on-site home wildfire hazard assessment with a UCD Firewise technician. Or, read up on how to create and maintain defensible space (see links above and the sidebar to this article).

     Two:  Decide what you can do, based on your own look and/or advice from UCD’s assessment with you (a technician will leave you a list of recommendations). Being Firewise isn’t about making a property fire-proof, but reducing the odds of a wildfire ignition on or around your home. Carry out the recommendations one or two at a time, increasing your margin of safety over the season, as energy, money and time allow.

     Three: When limbing trees back away from the house and 10 feet or higher off the ground, consider chipping the debris instead of burning it. How? Call UCD for the free mobile chipper service.  Click HERE for more information and to sign up.




Walk around the property, starting near the house and going out one hundred feet or so, and get a sense of wildfire ignition hazards. This means, if there’s a fire nearby – up to a mile away on a windy day – and its wind-blown embers land here, or the fire itself moves through the area, how vulnerable is your property and home to ignite? And, how likely are large conifer trees to carry a crown fire?

Some things to check (and make sure the answer is yes) include:

  • Are leaves and debris cleared from gutters, eaves, porches and decks?
  • Are exterior attic vents and soffit vents covered with wire mesh (no larger than 1/8 inch) to prevent sparks and embers from getting in?
  • Are all dead vegetation, debris and wood piles removed from under the deck or porch, and from within 10 feet of the house? (If something is flammable, don’t let remain near your home or outbuildings, including garages and sheds. Outbuildings are both at risk of ignition during a wildfire, and an additional source of embers and flames threatening a nearby home.)
  • Are trees, especially evergreens, pruned so their lowest branches are six to ten feet off the ground? (And ideally, neighboring trees’ crowns/branches are separated by six to ten feet, too?)
  • Is there a five-foot wide “fire-free zone” around your house, with hardscaping or rocks instead of shrubs (especially highly flammable junipers) or debris?
  • Is your address clearly marked, ideally with a reflective metal marker, at the street for emergency services to easily identify?

A comprehensive check-list can be found online here:

http://firewise.org/wildfire-preparedness/be-firewise/home-and-landscape/defensible-space .

Or, contact UCD for a free on-site wildfire home hazard assessment in Skamania and western Klickitat Counties.