Tuesday’s explosive blaze in which one home was lost and another damaged at The Ridge at Eagle Crest is a strong reminder of the value of defensible space and hazardous fuels reduction, an official involved in such efforts said Thursday.
Meanwhile, the owner of the destroyed home contacted NewsChannel 21 on Thursday and offered appreciation to those offering to provide help, but saying that it was not needed.
Chris Sweistris said he and his wife's his belongings were adequately insured and that they told the Red Cross they "respectfully declined their willingness and their resources to help in our case. I told them to save their resources to help people that were in need, and that I appreciated their service and concern for our well-being."
Sweistris also expressed "an incredible appreciation to Eagle Crest, and the residents of our great community, and how they stepped up for us to show their support and compassion in a time of distress for distress for myself and my wife."
Sweistris fled the fire, along with a security alarm worker there at the time, offering a quote for their system.
He said he and his wife had lived in the home for seven years, and while they lost the house and their car, "we were able to salvage some family things."
Fire investigators determined the fire was caused by barbecue briquette ashes disposed of in a plastic garbage can near the garage.Sweistris said he told fire officials he'd disposed of the ashes a few hours earlier.
"This was my fault," Sweistris said Thursday. "I thought the ashes were cool. I even ran my hand through them before I disposed of them."
He also said he told fire investigators in part to ease neighbor concerns that the propane tanks were unsafe.
Over the last three years, homeowners at The Ridge have taken proactive steps to increase the awareness of the potential for fast-moving fires and reduce their ability to spread between homes.
Working with Project Wildfire, the Ridge at Eagle Crest Owners Association has implemented numerous fuels reduction projects and now a Ladder Fuels Reduction Plan, outlining the area’s specific hazardous fuels and how to prepare properties to reduce the threat of fire spreading to structures.
“The work we started in 2010 is now paying off in areas where we’ve treated both individual lots, around homes and in common areas,” says Jim Meyers, resident The Ridge, referring to Tuesday’s fire.
“The common lands between Juniper Glen Court and Sundance Ridge Loop were mowed just this spring to reduce the dead bitterbrush, and other shrubs and grasses under trees that can lead fire to the tree crowns and contribute to its rapid spread,” Meyers adds.
“Homeowners in this area have done some clean up – put in some defensible space,” said Traci Cooper, fire marshal for Redmond Fire & Rescue; referring to the favorable condition of the fuels adjacent to the structures involved in the fire.
"Without the work that had been done, the outcome of this fire could have been much different," Cooper said.
Over 100 property owners took advantage of Project Wildfire’s grant program in 2010 to provide defensible space and fuel breaks on individual properties.
Since that time, the RECOA and Project Wildfire have partnered to provide yearly disposal opportunities for residents to complete their own defensible space and bring the yard debris to a convenient disposal location at no charge to the residents.
“You can’t buy this kind of community awareness and response,” says Katie Lighthall, program director of Project Wildfire. “The RECOA and Project Wildfire team up to provide education to residents and the incentive to do the work – the free disposal. However, the real measure of the awareness is the action taken by residents to prepare their properties for wildfire. Residents of The Ridge continue to demonstrate their personal responsibility for wildfire preparedness,” explains Lighthall.
This level of awareness and participation led to the development of the RECOA Ladder Fuels Reduction Program and its overwhelming resident support. The mandatory program details the area’s specific hazardous fuels and how to prepare properties to reduce the threat of fire spreading to structures.
“We continue to receive support for the program from our residents, especially when a fire occurs here. Many residents have called since the fire on Tuesday to inquire what they can do to better prepare themselves,” says Mr. Meyers.
While Tuesday’s fire was indeed a tragedy, it has provided a teachable moment about the benefit of defensible space and hazardous fuels reduction.
For more information about how your neighborhood can become more proactive against the threat of wildfire, contact Project Wildfire at 541-322-7129.