WHAT TO DO WHEN WILDFIRES STRIKE

Message from Tami Miketa, Manager of the Small Forest Landowner Office

2014 Chiwaukum Creek fire.

2014 Chiwaukum Creek fire.

A small forest landowner recently asked me what they should do if a fire strikes on or near their property. Who should they call and how should they protect themselves and their property? Considering this year’s tinder dry conditions for forests on both sides of the Cascades, I thought it would be a good idea to provide our readers with the essential “to dos” for when fire strikes.

Whether the fire is on your property or somewhere else, your first response should be to call 911 with the location of the fire. According to Bob Johnson, DNR’s lead firefighter and manager of the DNR Wildfire Division “Our first line of information about fires is often the public. If callers can take a moment to give us the general location of the fire, we can make sure there is a quick response by the firefighters best equipped to handle fire on that particular landscape.”

Dispatchers answering 911 calls immediately route calls to federal, state and local firefighters, depending on the location of the fire. While firefighting resources are heading toward the blaze, dispatchers or firefighters may call you back if additional information is needed regarding the fire, its location and nearby hazards.

“Sometimes we will need to check back with callers to confirm the location or to check on the status of the fire. This will ensure we have the right resources going to each fire. These calls can be invaluable as fires can change quickly” said Johnson. “Overall, our goal is to attack fires swiftly and aggressively before they have a chance to become large.”

MyLandPlan.org advises landowners that if the wildfire is approaching your home, you can help keep yourself and your family safe and minimize the damage to your land if you:

  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Close all windows, doors, vents and other openings, and draw your shutters, drapes or blinds to keep out sparks.
  • Put on protective clothes, including long pants, long-sleeved shirt, closed shoes, gloves and a handkerchief to shield your face.
  • Have tools and water available throughout fire season – a shovel, rake, long water hose, and water-filled buckets may be helpful. Leave a ladder against your house in plain view in case firefighters need to access your roof.
  • Remove dead leaves, vines and other potential fuel for the fire that is near your house.
  • If your roof isn’t fireproof, wet it down with a hose. You may also choose to wet shrubs and other flammable objects within 15 feet of your home.
  • Turn off your natural gas, propane, or other residential fuel.
  • If you are advised to evacuate, immediately take your family and pets to a safe location.

Once you return home:

  • Carefully inspect your home before re-entering it. Check the roof and all rooms for embers, and have your propane tank, heating oil tank, or other source of fuel professionally inspected before using it.
  • If your home was damaged, have your water tested before consuming it. Damage to your plumbing system can allow your water system to become contaminated with bacteria.
  • Protect yourself while cleaning up debris. Wear a respirator or mask and wet the debris first, to minimize your exposure to ash and dust.

You’ll also need to check your trees for wildfire damage. Signs include:

  • Black scorch marks on the trunks. If the bark has been scorched off or deeply burned around the entire circumference of the tree, that tree is unlikely to survive and should be considered unstable.
  • Burned roots. Probe the ground, six to eight inches below the surface and up to several feet away from the base of the tree. Trees with burned roots are also considered unstable.
  • Lost leaves or needles. Evergreens will need special protection after losing some or all of their needles, as this makes them especially susceptible to bark beetle attack.

DNR’s Wildfire Resources web page, has additional resources that will help you prepare and survive a wildfire.