WENATCHEE — Assessing Audelia Garcia’s home on Boodry Street for wildfire resiliency, experts found some good and bad.
The good: the roofing was in good shape and not made of wooden shingles; a vent leading to an attic was covered by a screen; the gutters were cleared; and rocks surrounded much of its foundation.
The bad: there were exposed openings to the foundation; some dry debris had accumulated close to the home’s siding; a wood fence connected to the home; and brush touched the fencing lining her backyard.
This assessment was part of Wildfire Ready Neighbors, a new program launched Monday by the state Department of Natural Resources to help homeowners better protect their homes from fires.
“For communities on the frontlines of wildfire, the unfortunate reality is that community preparedness is the last line of defense,” said DNR Commissioner Hilary Franz in a visit to the neighborhood. “We know that homes that prepare — that have brush trimmed back, clean roofs and gutters, and look for open areas around the foundation that can let dry leaves and debris gather under the home — are less susceptible to fire.”
She noted that the 2020 fire season was among the worst in state history and that the fire seasons are lasting longer and spreading into new areas. Chief Brian Brett with Chelan County Fire District 1 also said that the Wenatchee Valley isn’t as protected as it once was.
“As we all know, Chelan and Douglas counties are impacted by wildfires every summer — often severely,” Brett said. “The orchards that used to provide a buffer around our communities are largely gone. We have to live with wildfire in our region.”
Through a translator, Garcia led the effort in the Squilchuck Creek community after contacting CAFÉ (Community for the Advancement of Family Education), a Wenatchee nonprofit, to “try and change her community and to better the street for everyone.”
“She’s very worried because she wants her community to be safe, and to make sure that they come out safe when a fire does come here,” said translator Laura Rivera with CAFÉ.
The flaws identified by Firewise assessors put Garcia’s home at risk to a growing wildfire or floating embers.
“One of the first things we talked to you about is the idea that most homes do not burn from the flames brought from the wildfire,” said Patrick Haggerty with the Cascadia Conservation District. “Most homes are burned because of embers landing on top of the roof, in the gutters, in the corners of your houses where you might have leaves accumulated.”
Haggerty and Rivera with CAFÉ conducted a Firewise assessment of Garcia’s home Monday morning.
The program is available to residents of Chelan, Okanogan and Spokane counties, which are considered the most at-risk to wildfire in the state. The DNR unveiled the program Monday to residents living along Squilchuck Creek on Boodry and Beuzer streets.
“We want to make sure that this program isn’t … seen as available only to those who have means,” Franz said. “But instead it’s to everyone.”
The program launches in Okanogan County on April 19 and in Spokane County on April 29.
Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz encouraged residents to follow Firewise recommendations and likened the practice to getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
“So why do I get vaccinated? I get vaccinated to protect me and I get vaccinated to protect my neighbors,” Kuntz said. “Why would I want my home to be FireWise and fire safe? To protect my home, but also that allows you to protect your neighbors’ homes.”