Defendable space: Wildfire experts say planning and preparedness can reduce risk of losing homes | Local News
Brett Van Paepeghem doesn’t mince words when discussing the potential consequences of this fire season.
“It’s scary,” Van Paepeghem said in a telephone interview. “The drought, the heat, the forecast; all of this is sort of a recipe for disaster. It’s frightening. We are potentially having one of the worst fire seasons I have ever seen in my life. “
Van Paepeghem is the Southern Idaho Project Manager for Idaho Firewise, a nonprofit organization that coordinates and promotes education about wildfires with the goal of reducing fire losses.
He is worried about the drought and weather conditions that clash with more recent construction trends.
Over the past 10 years, Idaho has been the second fastest growing state in the country, based on percentage growth, according to the US Census Bureau.
Much of the West has also grown rapidly.
“Where do we grow up? Van Paepeghem asked, rhetorically. “In our wild urban interface. This seems to be the typical direction. This is where we have room for new people, housing estates and buildings, in our wild urban interface.
Fire experts define the wild urban interface (they often use the acronym WUI) as the area where human development and structures meet or blend with a natural environment and natural fuels.
And as such, urban brownfield interface areas pose a higher risk of damage and loss from forest fires.
The Town of Boise has a map showing the areas designated as the Wilderness Urban Interface. Many communities in Idaho and the West have also adopted wilderness urban interface codes for development.
What can homeowners do to prevent losses during wildfire season?
Fire experts told the Idaho Capital Sun that homeowners and builders can do several things to reduce the risk of fire damage, including building homes and roofs with fire-resistant materials, cleaning gutters leaves and debris, use rock gravel over bark mulch for landscaping and maintain a protective defensive space in areas closest to structures.
“It’s human nature to think that bad things will only happen to someone else,” Van Paepeghem said. “I think we are all guilty of this on many levels other than wildfires.”
That’s not to say that there aren’t things – including simple things – that humans can do to prevent wildfires and reduce the risk in the event of a fire.
Pat Durland, a consultant at Stone Creek Fire who began his career with a fire crew and spent 30 years managing wildland firefighting programs, says many fire losses can be avoided or reduced if the humans understand the risk factors and take action to address the risk.
“It’s a problem that can be solved, and more people need to understand that they need to do something. They need to be proactive rather than reactive, ”said Durland. “We can make this problem go away. When it comes to natural perils, it’s easy and we can fix it. There will be other issues for future generations, and it would be great to take that off the list. “
“It starts with gardening”
Van Paepeghem and Durland spend most of their time helping Idaho residents, home buyers, developers and home builders reduce the risk of loss from a fire.
They believe in taking preventative measures to reduce the risk of loss from fire and both advocate leaving your home if it is threatened by fire, rather than staying to fight and defend it.
Some steps are as simple as following the yard work.
“Research has shown us that the likelihood of your structure resisting ignition from an external fire source largely depends on your structure, how it was built and how it is maintained and of the 100 feet that surround it, ”Durland said, recommending the wildfire advice available on the website www.disastersafety.org.
“You have to ask yourself if your roof is made of non-combustible material, if your gutter is full of leaves, and if you are close to fuels that will burn quickly,” added Durland. “The zero to five foot area (around your house) is really critical.”
Durland advises people to avoid bark mulch and junipers around their homes, as they can fuel a fire. They should keep the landscaping spaced and trimmed, removing dead material that would contribute to the spread of a fire.
Van Paepeghem takes care of the Idaho Firewise Demonstration Garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden in Boise to bring people ideas for safer, still practical and attractive landscaping materials.
He urges people to focus on lower density, keeping lawns out of place and brush cut and using drought tolerant vegetation to reduce risk and fuels.
“All plants are not created equal; some burn much more easily than others, ”he said. “We suggest not to use coniferous plants within 30 feet (of structures) and instead use plants with lower growth and higher moisture content.”
What do you mean by defensible space?
Van Paepeghem stresses the importance of considering your property in three zones extending from the house.
The first zone, Zone 1, is the area immediately around the house, up to about five feet. This is the most critical area to stay away from landscaping fuels.
Zone two extends from five feet to approximately 30 feet. Here, Van Paepegan emphasizes the importance of leaving space between the plantations so that the landscaping does not become a continuous line of solid fuel.
Zone three runs from 30 feet to 100 feet from the house. Here Van Paepeghem still emphasizes clearing and leaving space between plants, shrubs and trees. He urges people to remove ladder fuels, which are grasses or shrubs growing under trees that can push fires away from the ground and get into the canopy of trees.
A note of caution Van Paepeghem adds is that fire can spread much faster on steep slopes. He urges people to expand the areas if the property is on steeply sloping ground.
However, many new building trends do not match the three zones that Van Paepeghem mentioned, as houses are often built so densely and so close to each other that zone two could include the neighbor’s house and zone three. could include several roofs in a subdivision. This is another factor that worries Van Paepeghem.
“They cram a lot of houses into small spaces, and it’s just counterintuitive to be able to create a survival space or a defensible space using the areas around a house,” Van Paepeghem said. “This property is so small that the next door neighbor is only 10 feet away. When you have a situation like that I don’t care how you deal with it, it’s a risk in itself. The houses themselves become the fuel for the fire.
What is a Firewise community and what can builders do?
From the outset, the development of Avimor in Ada County was planned and built as a Firewise community to meet the national criteria for the program administered by the National Fire Protection Association, said Dan Richter, Managing Partner of Avimor. , during a telephone interview.
The heart of the program is to involve homeowners and the entire community to reduce the risk of forest fires for homes and the community.
Other Firewise communities in Idaho include Wilderness Ranch, Hidden Springs, Harris Ranch North and Warm Springs Mesa in Boise, Armstrong Park in Coeur d’Alene, Conkling Park in Worley, Heatherlands HOA in Hailey, Town of McCall, Wapiti Creek Summer Homes in Lowman and Mackay Fire District in Mackay, among others, according to Idaho Firewise.
In Avimor, that means using cement siding instead of wood siding, using fire-resistant materials in the roofs, having a landscaping plan, and using rock mulch around homes.
Avimor has a conservation manager, and every five years that person examines the homes to make sure there have been no alterations and that the landscaping is trimmed and maintained.
Avimor developers also purchased a mower to trim the slopes of the foothills that lead up to the community and to mow along the right-of-way of Idaho Highway 55 around the community.
“We know all of these places burn down eventually, and we just need to make sure that when we have a fire, we can keep our community safe,” Richter said. “We have built ponds around our community, so if we catch a fire the helicopters can use them to get out. We also keep our irrigation tanks full.
Avimor is a nearly 23,000 acre development located north of Eagle in the foothills outside of Boise. Construction began in 2004. When complete, developers predict that Avimor will have approximately 10,000 homes and include approximately 700,000 square feet of mixed-use development that will eschew big box retailers in favor of a more grocery store. small and potentially a hardware store, a brewery and the possibility of a veterinary clinic.
Avimor adds about 150 homes per year and is currently approaching 700 homes in total, Richter said. He expects development on the scale he plans to take 30 years.
Avimor has come under criticism from Boise town officials and other city and county leaders who were concerned about the construction of the emergency services and emergency services development so far. EMS response, reported Boise Dev. Officials are concerned about slower emergency response times and not weighing down the rest of the surrounding tax base by paying for the small number of people who live in Avimor and are the father of emergency services.
Since construction began, Richter said two fires broke out along Idaho Highway 55 and burned down to the community, but did not damage homes.
“I like to think it was our Firewise planning (that saved homes), but also the Eagle Fire Department did a hell of a job handling the fire,” Richter said.
Many individual properties in Avimor border or date back to wilderness. Richter said that’s a lot of the appeal. There are over 100 miles of trails that the people of Avimor have access to. But this wild space is also a reminder of the need to be prepared and vigilant.
“We knew if we were to be here we would face a fire and we had to manage that risk,” said Richter.