Note: originally posted by The Source Weekly, written by Dave Howe

In the past 30 years, Bend has had several large wildland fires which either threatened or destroyed multiple homes. The 1990 Awbrey Hall Fire razed 22 houses and damaged several others, while the 1996 Skeleton Fire consumed 30 structures. Although one can imagine a massive wall of fire raging through a subdivision, the reality is quite different. In fact, there were homes in the middle of the devastation which survived these fires. Why does one house survive when the others burn to the ground?

All fire needs fuel, and in the worldview of a fire, anything that can burn, including a structure, is considered fuel and therefore is fair game. Most structures that burn in a wildland fire are ignited by embers landing, out ahead of the main body of fire, on fuels close to a building: bark mulch; needle cast in a gutter or on a roof; dry brush adjacent to the house. An intense wildfire can send embers and brands out over half a mile ahead of the fire front.

Homeowners can, in fact, do much to protect their property, with a small ongoing effort, perhaps a weekend of work in the spring, and especially when neighbors band together to clean gutters and roofs, make a 5-foot noncombustible area around any fuel (siding, decks, fences), limb up existing trees to remove ladder fuels, ensure firewood is safely away from the house and remove dry brush and grass 30 feet from buildings. Even a small amount of tall, dry grass can endanger a building: by removing it, you can significantly decrease your odds of ignition.

Neighbors can help each other with labor, tools, and refreshments, to create a space where any ignition source, such as an ember or brand from an encroaching fire, will either go out on its own or be extinguished easily by owner or firefighter. By doing this, one can make the property far more resistant to sustained fire, safer for firefighters, and overall more attractive. Fire spreads from fuel to fuel, and quite often in a conflagration, one house will ignite the next one. The few that survive a major blaze did so because the owners took the time to mitigate the fuels that endangered their properties. By making the year-round effort to mitigate the little pockets of fuel, you protect not only your own home, but your neighbors’ houses, as well.

Wildland fires are a devastating show of Nature’s force, but we mortal humans, with a basic understanding of ignition and fuels, can tip the odds in our favor. We are not helpless!

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