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Guide offers fire preparation tips

A new guide by the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland offers tips for creating defensible space around homes and taking other steps to prepare for fire season.
Residents can take action before start of fire season

From cleaning flammable debris from gutters to returning home after a fire has swept through the area, the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center is offering tips to deal with fire danger in a new guide.

The guide can be downloaded for free by visiting kswild.org/forest-fire-toolkit.

“We want it to get into as many people’s hands as possible. It’s timely. Now is the time to prepare your home and landscape. Fire season is coming,” said Alexi Lovechio, lead editor of the guide and KS Wild’s national forest organizer.

Lovechio said the destructive fires that swept Jackson County in September 2020 were a wake-up call.

KS Wild decided to talk to experts and work with community groups in order to assemble the guide.

“It’s a free resource full of step-by-step instructions to make sure you stay safe if a wildfire strikes,” Lovechio said.

The guide offers tips for creating defensible space around your home.

For example, clean your roof, gutters, decks and around the base of walls to stop the accumulation of leaves, needles and other flammable material. Be sure there’s no flammable material underneath, on top of or within five feet of a deck.

The basic strategy is to remove dead or dying grass, plants, shrubs, trees, branches, leaves, weeds and pine needles within 30 feet of all structures to create the first zone of defensible space.

In zone two, which extends out 100 feet from structures, keep the grass mowed down to 4 inches and remove low branches and shrubs, which can act like ladders to carry flames into the crowns of trees.

Creating defensible space can help stop flames from reaching your home, prevent falling embers from igniting blazes and give firefighters room to make a stand against fire.

The guide includes strategies to make your home itself more resistant to fire. When it’s time to replace your roof, siding or deck, choose fire-resistant materials. Install metal gutter covers that allow water into gutters but keep leaves and other debris out. Have multiple garden hoses that are long enough to reach all areas of your home and other structures on the property.

For landscaping, avoid bark mulch or at least keep it moist, and use fire-resistant plants and trees.

The guide has information on programs and financial help to reduce fire danger on your property, plus information on professionals who can help people manage their private woodlands.

The Almeda fire that swept from Ashland to the outskirts of Medford incinerated thousands of homes, burning all or parts of 20 manufactured and mobile home parks and wiping out whole neighborhoods of houses.

The South Obenchain fire burned dozens of rural homes in northern Jackson County.

Lovechio said many of the tips in the guide can help people whether they are at risk from an urban or a rural fire.

The guide has information for how to sign up for emergency alerts, talk to your insurance company to understand your coverage, create an evacuation plan with different exit routes and pack a go-bag with supplies to get through at least three days on your own.

Many local residents who lost their homes have struggled to get their insurance policies to cover their claims. Others have found they only had insurance to cover the value of their homes — not the cost to rebuild or buy a new home.

If a fire does sweep through, the guide outlines steps for returning home if your house is still standing.

Those steps include making sure evacuation orders have been lifted, watching for downed power lines and hazardous trees, wearing protective clothing and gear, looking for smoldering fires and checking the natural gas, water, power and other utilities.

KS Wild, which is known for keeping a close eye on proposed logging projects and other activities on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land, is also using the guide to teach people how to monitor and comment on projects.

KS Wild said that information is important because most local communities are surrounded by “public and private industrial forest land.”

The guide says thinning near homes and prescribed fire can help protect communities from fire, while clearcut logging can damage watersheds and increase fire danger. Meanwhile, climate change is bringing warmer temperatures, with longer periods of dry weather and drought — all while more people are building homes in the woods.

“There is no future free from wildfire, but there are actions we can take to help prepare for the next one,” the guide says.

Lovechio said KS Wild tried to write the guide in the most unbiased way possible. People who support logging can also use the information to reach out to forest managers and comment on projects, she noted.

“We want this guide to be useful to everyone,” she said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.