Are you Fire Wise?

Now is the time to take protective steps


Fire wise means preparing your home or business to make it as safe from catching fire as possible. As we move into fire season, being fire wise could mean the difference between saving or losing your home when a fire strikes. One thing you should know is what kind of fuel surrounds your home. That will determine how fast and how hot an approaching fire may be.

McKenzie Valley areas unaffected by the 2020 Holiday Farm (and most of the valley before the fire) were forested areas with heavy fuel that is harder to ignite and slower to burn. Most of the area that is recovering from the Holiday Farm Fire now has mostly grass and brush.

The spring rains have done a wonderful job of helping this beautiful vegetation to grow again. Unfortunately, grass and brush dry out fairly quickly during the warm days of summer and that fuel load is now considered to be light fuels that are fast-burning.

What your home is made of will impact how susceptible it is to wildfire. Metal roofs and tile roofs will not catch fire from falling or blown embers. Untreated cedar shingles or shakes will go up like tinder. Regular asphalt roll roofing and shingles are somewhere in between. Note that blowing embers can go up under the eaves or down through roof vents too.

Having screens on all vents can reduce the chances of burning embers getting into your attic. Loose tiles, shakes, or shingles may provide places for embers to catch, increasing the chances of them starting a fire. Brick, stone, and other masonry facings as well as metal siding helps protect walls.

Wooden walls are more likely to ignite in the radiant heat of nearby wildfire. Vinyl siding will likely melt when a wildfire approaches, exposing the underlying sheeting, which is usually plywood or USB these days. The vinyl siding itself is often also fairly flammable.

There are several things you can do to protect your home or other structures.

First of all, keep the roof and gutters clean. Dry leaves or pine needles are easily ignited by blown embers. Likewise, remove as much light, dry vegetation from at least 30 feet around your structures. Green grass is OK, but brown or dead grass burns easily.

If you have trees, trim dead and live branches away from 8-10 feet above the ground to prevent ground fires from igniting the trees and increasing the chance of the fire spreading to your structures. Trees burn a lot hotter and longer than grass and shrubs.

Keep decks and patios free from leaves and pine needles and any other combustible debris. Plastic patio furniture and combustible cushions should be removed as a fire approaches. Keep your lawn well watered throughout the fire season. Give it an extra watering if you can when there are fires in the area.

Sprinklers might help prevent a fire from approaching your structures or can sometimes protect the structures themselves. If you have them but don’t have time to set them up before you have to evacuate your home, leave sprinklers and hoses where fire crews can easily find them so they can set them up for you if necessary in your absence.

Speaking of evacuation you should plan long in advance to facilitate your safe evacuation and make sure you save everything you want to save. Organize important belongings and valuables so you know exactly where they are and are easy to grab to put in your vehicle.

There are three levels of evacuation. Level one means get ready to go. Level two means get set to go – evacuation could be imminent. Level three means you are in immediate or imminent threat of danger.

You will not always go through all three stages. A powerful fire headed your way may put you immediately in Level 3 mode as it did for many victims of the Holiday Farm Fire.

We were very fortunate that there was only one fatality during the Holiday Farm Fire. Sadly, the gentleman affected had failed to evacuate when advised to do so several hours before. Fire crews tried valiantly to reach him when he finally called for help but the fire was so intense by then that they could not get through to save him. Responding immediately to a Level 3 evacuation order could mean the difference between life and death for you and your family.

Both the Upper McKenzie and McKenzie Fire Departments have taken advantage of grants from the Oregon State Fire Marshal to provide extra full-time staffing at their fire stations during the busiest time of the day during fire season. The intent is to allow a faster response to small fires to prevent them from becoming larger fires. But it is still YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to make sure your place is properly prepared so they can do their best to protect you.


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