by Richard Uhlhorn
Johnny and Sara Synder have been advocates for firewise mitigation efforts around residential properties for the last 20 years. When they moved to Union Valley, they were not really aware of the fire danger until a 4,600 acre human caused wildfire in the valley threatened them and other residents living in the rural wildland area.
Since that fire caused by an illegal trash burn, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources has been working with Union Valley neighbors through cost sharing programs to create fire safe zones around individual properties.
Twenty years later, the DNR is still on the job in Union Valley and, along with the Synders, created a Community based Fire District and communications system to defend themselves and neighbors.
On Tuesday, April 19, the Synders hosted a new DNR program called “Wildfire Ready Neighbors” at their property in Union Valley. In attendance were a number of neighbors, fire districts and agencies.
Sara Synder said the program is funded by the DNR through a State legislated effort to educate and help residents who live in an urban/wildland interface to prepare their homes against wildfire. “Home owners can hire contractors or do the work themselves,” she said. If the homeowner hires a contractor, they pay for the services and then invoice the DNR for reimbursement. “If a homeowner decides to do the work themselves, they can also be reimbursed for their time.”
Guy Gifford, a DNR Landowner Assistance Forester, stated that program is focused on point protection. “We want people to get motivated to take action,” he said. “This is now a statewide program.” Interested homeowners or businesses can learn more at http://www.wildfireready.com.
Land Commissioner Hilary Franz was able to get the State Legislature to agree to $2 million dollars a year over the next five years for the wildfire readiness program. She was unable to attend due to a positive Covid test, so Allen Lebovitz, DNR’s Wildfire & Resiliency Liaison, stepped in to address the assembled crowd of approximately 75 people.
“Wildfire is becoming more dangerous and severe every year,” said Lebovitz. “Last year April broke all records with over 200 fires.” He went on to say that the moisture level is around two percent. “This piece of paper I’m reading from has a five percent moisture content.”
Homeowners interested in what they can do to protect their property can visit the website and get a no cost site visit from a local fire agency. “We are all in this together.”
Chelan Fire Chief Brandon Asher thanked the DNR for recognizing Union Valley first. “We have a long history of fire in the Valley and a long history of homeowners being very progressive about protecting their property,” said Asher. “It makes our job much easier.”
Chelan Fire and Rescue will send out a team to conduct a home survey to help homeowners protect their homes from wildfire. The fire district can be reached at 509-682-4476.
Alma Chacon, CAFE (The Community for the Advancement of Family Education) thanked Hilary Franz for her passion and spoke about her organization’s ability to help educate homeowners about protecting their property whether it is in a rural forested area, a wildland/urban interface or within a township.
The illegal trash fire in 2001 involved 930 wildland firefighters at an estimated cost of $3.8 million dollars to suppress. Today, wildfires are even more severe.
In 2015, the lightning caused Chelan Complex burned over 56,000 acres destroying more than 50 structures and forced an estimated 1,500 residents in the area to flee. South Chelan was in danger of being lost. Chelan Fruit lost a major warehouse structure when it’s roof caught on fire from burning embers from the wooden apple bins stored on the south side of the warehouse. Estimated damage was over $100 million plus to lost structures.
One of the biggest concerns of many residents is the possibility of a major wildfire being pushed by a down lake wind taking out communities and residential areas around the Lake.
Wildfire Ready Neighbors is a program to help homeowners determine how vulnerable their property is. A free Wildfire Ready Home Visit can help the property owner decide how to better protect his/her property from fire.
If your property is located on forested land, you can sign up for a Forest Health Consultation to assess your forest’s health and identify problems and solutions.
http://www.wildfireready.dnr.wa.gov/visit to sign up and schedule a home visit and/or website consultation.
Property owners can support their local fire districts by installing reflective address signs where your driveway meets the main road. Chelan Fire and Rescue continues to seek new volunteers who want to serve their community and have the time to dedicate.
Union Valley property owners are working hard to protect their properties from the potential of a wildfire. It’s time for the entire state to get behind the DNR’s Wildfire Ready Program.
- Nationwide some 4.5 million homes are at high or extreme risk from wildfire
- In 2021 there were 58,985 wildfires across the nation burning 7.1 million acres which is a 17 percent increase from 2019 and a 223 percent increase from 1983
- Humans cause 90 percent of all fires
- 2020 was the third costliest year on record at $16.5 billion.
- In Washington State, 160,500 homes are at-risk.
Visit http://www.wildfireready.com or call 1-877-WA-Ready for more information.