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Keep Idaho Green,fire,Department of Lands, U.S. Forest Service,Bureau of Land Management,wildfire,northern Idaho,flames,firefighters,landscaping,smoke,International Fire Code,Bonner County,subdivisions,weather information
By: Keith Kinnaird

  There’s a common misconception that most homes are destroyed by direct contact with flames from a wildfire; the reality is that just as many fall victim to wildfire because of the embers that waft away from woodland conflagrations and land on roofs or in yards.

  Removing branches from trees to a height of 6-15 feet is also recommended, as is lopping off any branches that have direct contact with your home.

Keep Idaho Green  

Fire is one of Keep Idaho Green’s best promoters.

  A consortium of wild land fire experts from the Idaho Department of Lands, U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, Keep Idaho Green guides landowners in reducing their homes’ vulnerability to wildfire.

  It’s a program which is taking on added emphasis as development fans deeper into forests and creeps up mountainsides in northern Idaho; but, Vickie Ellickson, the state lands department’s fire prevention coordinator, concedes that getting people engaged in Keep Idaho Green can be something of a challenge.

Keep Idaho Green Information - Sandpoint Idaho

  Workshops on Keep Idaho Green principles don’t set attendance records and Ellickson freely admits the material can sound rather dry to some.

  But images of homes being consumed by flames on television and in newspapers cause people to take note and question whether their home is safe.

  “Unfortunately, the best time to
reach people is after an incident,” said Ellickson.

  Even fires burning regionally can
serve as a good platform for reminding people here of the Keep It Green philosophy, she said.

  Keep Idaho Green’s protective measures will not make your home completely immune to a forest fire, but they do increase your chances.

  “There’s no guarantee,” says Ken Homik, assistant fire warden for the Idaho Department of Lands’ Pend Oreille district. “But you can increase the chances of survival. You get the odds on your side.”

Radiant heat from a nearby blaze can also touch off a fire if the conditions are right, according to Keep Idaho Green officials.

Survivable Space

  Keep Idaho Green promotes the concept of creating a perimeter of “survivable space” around your home by clearing away brush and other combustible material. The method has a twofold effect - it starves an advancing fire of fuel and creates a safe place from which firefighters can work to fending off a blaze.

  A general rule of thumb is to remove anything that is easily ignitable within 10 feet of the home. That means getting rid of dead vegetation (including pine needles and leaves), thinning stands of dense vegetation and using plants which are more fire-resistant.

  Keep Idaho Green officials emphasize that reducing dense stands of vegetation next to your home will help reduce fuel load without sacrificing the aesthetics and privacy your landscaping imparts.

  Expanding outward, the next 30 feet should consist of lean, green and clean material. In the apron 100 feet from your home, dead vegetation that’s an inch thick and 2 feet long should be removed. This will slow the fire down and help it cool.

  Keep Idaho Green officials strongly recommend the distances be increased if homes are located on a slope.

  Wildland firefighter David Price said a common misstep among landowners who harvest timber on their own land is to leave logging slash piled up in heaps. “They’re leaving ground fuel,” he said.

Not all homes have fire insurance

Know When To Burn

  Before you torch those slash piles, make sure the weather conditions are safe and get a burn permit. It’s common for neighbors to become alarmed when they see plumes of smoke fill the sky and alert authorities. Don’t be surprised if firefighters from IDL or your local fire district show up; you could even be billed for putting IDL through the trouble and expense of scrambling a fire crew on a false alarm. Moreover, that bill could prove to be a horse-choker if your burn goes awry and IDL is forced to come and intervene.

  Burn permits are available at your local IDL office from May 10 to October 20. You have to apply for one in person, although you can renew the permit over the phone in subsequent seasons.

  Try to get the most detailed and localized weather information when contemplating a burn project. Your gut and the observations from your favorite TV weather personality are not enough to safely rely on. The IDL can direct you to comprehensive forecasts for valleys and the mountains that flank them.

  As for this season’s fire danger, Homik said the forecast is still taking shape.

  “It’s really like looking into a crystal ball this time of year,” he said. “The real make-or-break period is the end of this month and into June.”

  Though it might cramp your outdoor pursuits, the more rainfall, the less chance forests will dry out to dangerous levels.

Those familiar with the ways of
wildfire say it is never a matter of if; it is a matter of when. “It’s a matter of time. Some years you get lucky and others you don’t,” Homik said.

Don’t be surprised if firefighters from IDL or your local fire district show up; you could even be billed for putting IDL through the trouble and expense of scrambling a fire crew on a false alarm

Built-In Precautions

  Keep Idaho Green also recommends using landscape and building materials which are less susceptible to fire; mulch, rocks, concrete sidewalks, brick patios are good landscaping options. Fire officials also strongly recommend using fire-resistant roofing materials such as Class A asphalt shingles, metal, cement or concrete products. That wood shake shingle roof might look quaint, but it could wind up being nothing more than an oversized welcome mat for a drifting ember looking to start trouble.

  Other structural precautions homeowners can take include installing shutters and dual-pane windows to reduce the amount of radiant heat that enters the home, thus helping prevent the interior from igniting. If cost is a factor, employ the above recommendations on the side of the house which has the greatest risk of approaching fire.

To keep the undersides of decks from becoming a repository for combustible debris, install non-flammable screens around the base of the deck.

  Consider using composite or metal siding instead of wood shingles.

Make Good Inroads

  Homes in northern Idaho sometimes burn to the ground because firefighters have poor road access. Access is a hurdle anybody who has fought a fire in a rural setting can attest to.

  If you’re thinking of buying or building that home on a rugged perch, consider the driveway’s grade and width. Those who live in a fire district can ask its staff to come out and provide access recommendations to help ensure their bulky trucks can get through the event of a fire.

  Keep Idaho Green advocates widening roads to allow two-way traffic, if possible, or creating turnouts so you have a way out and firefighters have a way in.

  Clearing roadside vegetation can also aid access and bridges should be clearly posted with weight limitations. Make sure dead ends have turnarounds that are ample enough to accommodate larger emergency vehicles.

  Bonner County is implementing changes to its land-use codes requiring developers of new subdivisions to construct roads according to International Fire Code standards; however, the code change would not apply to small housing developments.

Keep Idaho Green also recommends using landscape and building materials which are less susceptible to fire; mulch, rocks, concrete sidewalks, brick patios are good landscaping options. Fire officials also strongly recommend using fire-resistant roofing materials such as Class A asphalt shingles, metal, cement or concrete products. That wood shake shingle roof might look quaint, but it could wind up being nothing more than an oversized welcome mat for a drifting ember looking to start trouble.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

  The lack of any substantial fires in our area over the past few years isn’t exactly helping raise awareness of the threat of wildfire.

  The Hope 44 fire in 2002 is a faded memory for some, and newcomers might be completely unaware of the several hundred acre fire that raged east of Sandpoint and set the community on edge.

  Firefighter Price said Hope 44 put the wildfire issue on people’s radar screens, but the blip has faded with time.

  “Hope 44 brought awareness of preventative maintenance. That’s blown over now. That’s old news,” he said.

  Despite the relatively quiet fire seasons, though, Keep Idaho Green is gradually gaining acceptance. A few years ago, only one community had adopted the fire prevention principles to earn a “Firewise” designation. Now there are four communities with that pedigree, said Ellickson.   “There are more people who are getting it,” she said.

Additional information on the Keep Idaho Green program is available on the Internet (www.keepidahogreen.org). Those wishing detailed technical assistance should send their inquiries to info@keepidahogreen.org

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