Talk offers tips
When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 25.
Guarding against wildfires
Around the house
September 2012 fires: Could thick valley smoke happen again
WENATCHEE — In September of 2012, conditions were just right for a smoky mess.
LEAVENWORTH — In 1994, with wildfires threatening his forested property, Ross Frank stayed to defend his land.
He wouldn’t do it again.
“It was really dumb,” he said. “I could have lost my life.”
Now Frank, a founder of a local fire-safe group, has a plan — and he hopes his neighbors do, too.
Every year, Frank thins the trees on his 120-acre Red Tail Canyon Farm, and he keeps a file handy with a list of things he’d do if fire threatened his home.
“Who wants to be going down the road in a panic, not able to catch your housecat, or hauling your horses down the road and not knowing where you’re going to take them?” Frank said.
In 2009, Frank helped form the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition, a group of local landowners, governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations. Among its goals is to increase awareness of wildfire danger and to reduce fuel loads in the forest.
The latter means getting as much underbrush thinned as possible.
“We’re talking about ladder fuels,” Frank said. “This is primarily the understory, the area below the trees that work like a ladder to send fire up into the trees.”
Ladder fuels are a problem because of decades of fire suppression in the area and the slowdown in the logging industry.
“The fuel loads are increasing at levels we haven’t seen before, historically, and they still are,” he said.
He noted that his property holds 600 to 800 trees per acre, when, to be fire-safe, it should hold 100 or less.
Of the 600 to 700 homes in the Chumstick, most are at risk from wildfire, Frank said. He worries that many residents aren’t doing enough to lower their risk.
He said about 100 people are the coalition’s mailing list, but many of those are employees of governmental agencies and nonprofit groups. The Coalition has a core of about 10 active people.
“Fire wakes people up for a little while, but people have busy lives and those take people to other interests again,” he said.
Last year, Frank thinned about eight acres of his land, bringing the total thinned acreage to about 25. But that leaves him with 95 acres to go, and he’s tired and frustrated.
When he thins, he said, there is no place close by to take the materials to. He said the “death blow” was the closure of the mill at Winton in 2007.
“It was a small log mill, built just for this kind of timber, and they said they couldn’t sustain it.”
Frank personally mills the good pieces of wood off his property, and burns as much of the rest as possible.
Frank said he’s thinking of hiring someone to come in and log, but the real problem is I’m not getting the value out of the product.”
All this puts Frank on edge, and he cringes when he hears about all the homes being burned by wildfires in Colorado and California.
“Any resident in the forest should be creating defensible space around their home and structures,” he said. “Make sure you can drive in and out and make sure a fire apparatus can get in there safely and with a turnaround.”
It’s critical, too, he said, to create a list of neighbors, friends and relatives to call if fire threatens the area.
“You don’t want Grandma driving in to see if you’re OK after you’ve left,” he said.
Among Frank’s contingency plans are rounding up his dogs and horses, or letting them run free if fire doesn’t give him time to do that. He suggests, too, that people create a list of things that they want to save and bring to their vehicles when they leave. Keeping sprinklers set up and ready to be turned on is also important.
In a worst-case scenario, he urged people living in forests to create a safe zone on their property. It may be a large, mowed field, or in the house.
“The house itself can be a safe zone if you’re trapped and can keep it from igniting, but that’s very tenuous,” he said. “About an hour after the fire comes through there will be all these embers in the air and they’ll likely catch the house on fire.”
Back in 1994, Frank said, he was uneducated about the dangers of wildfire, but was fortunate that the wildfire stopped about a half-mile from his property
“It made us very aware of fire and its potential and its impact,” he said.