Central Oregon

Spring clean-up time: Think like a wildfire

SALEM, ore. - As you begin spring clean-up on your property, experts say it might help to think like a wildfire.

If a fire could reason, it would head for the house first, because it's the largest fuel source around. There are several potential paths. Blocking each of them greatly improve the odds of your home surviving an encroaching fire.   

Climbing the fuel ladder

Tall, dry grass accelerates a fire's spread outward and forward from its point of origin. If it reaches flammable shrubs, the fire begins to climb the "fuel ladder." Low tree limbs overhanging the burning shrubs dry out from the heat, and soon the flames leap into the limbs and ascend into the tree top. This enables the fire to move rapidly from tree to tree in what firefighters term a "crown fire." If a tree standing close to the house ignites, the fire's next move could very well be to the structure itself.

Flammable landscape plants

In Oregon, ornamental juniper is a popular landscaping shrub. But fire also likes this attractive plant. Once ignited, juniper burns hot and fast. Analysis of large wildfires in the West cites many instances of homes that survived the passing of the flame front, only to burn down days later as smoldering juniper ignited the siding or wooden decks.

Fire in the gutter

No dry grass, unpruned trees, or flammable shrubs near the house? You've made a good start on creating defensible space. But a wildfire has a third means of reaching the structure. The updraft from an active fire can cast embers miles beyond the perimeter.  If the ember lands on a roof covered by leaves, needles, or other debris, the fire will have found a path to more destruction.  If the ember rolls into the rain gutter, the fate of the house depends on the owner's maintenance regime.  If leaves or conifer needles have accumulated there, the ember has a ready-made fuel bed. This material doesn't always burst into a tall, showy flame. Rather, it kindles a smokeless, smoldering burn that creeps into the underlayment of the roof.

Blocking the path:

"We don't want you change that wonderful environment in which you wish to live," says Mary Ellen Holly, President and CEO of the Keep Oregon Green Association. "But you need to provide breaks in the vegetation to keep fire from spreading; keep the plants and grass pruned, watered, and green; and keep firewood and propane tanks uphill and 30 feet or more away from the home. With a few days' work, you can breathe much more easily knowing you have done what you can to protect yourselves against wildfire. Neighborhood efforts of the 3 Ps (planning, pruning, and planting) can bring about even greater results for wildfire prevention.

Following these basic steps can help protect your largest investment against damage or loss resulting from wildfire. For more tips on how to reduce your home's vulnerability to fire, go to: www.keeporegongreen, or contact the nearest office of the Oregon Department of Forestry.

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