Don’t let a wildfire destroy your home. Here are tips to keep it safe

As the Tri-Cities moves into wildfire season, firefighters are urging homeowners to make their homes safer.

Kennewick firefighters are bringing that information straight to some of the people most at risk for getting their homes caught up in a wildfire.

“We need to get that information out. We can’t go around and clean everyone’s houses, so we’re trying to maximize as many resources as we can, and the homeowner is a resource,” Kennewick Fire Capt. Brian Ellis said. “If each person can take care of their property, and their neighbor takes care of theirs, it just builds on itself to where you have entire neighborhoods that are protected.”

More than 20 firefighters will be going door to door in several south Kennewick neighborhoods to share information about how to prepare for wildfire season. The areas include Canyon Lakes and Inspiration Estates, which were the two neighborhoods hit the hardest by the Bofer Canyon fire.

The August 2018 wind-driven blaze burned 5,000 acres, destroyed five homes and damaged three others. Coming after the blaze, city officials adopted the Firewise program from the National Fire Protection Association. The program looks at ways people can protect their home in places on the border of wildlands.

“Twenty-five years ago we had similar fire conditions that came through an almost identical area. The big difference is that we have moved out into that wildland-urban interface zone,” Ellis said.

Following the fire, they reached out to homeowners in the area through a series of community meetings, and many of them asked what they could do to protect their homes.

Bags of information

Firefighters are delivering a bag full of information to homeowners, including a brochure talking about preparing your home for a wildfire. One of those tips involves making sure to keep highly flammable plants away from your home.

Kennewick Fire Department Capt. Brian Ellis talks about Operation Defensible Space. On Saturday, 20 firefighter will be in three different areas in Kennewick handing out information on how to protect your home during wildfire season. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

The primarily grass- and sage-fueled fires in the Mid-Columbia tend to spread out embers in front of them. When those hit a plant like an arborvitae, they can ignite quickly. If they’re next to a home, it acts like a giant torch and spreads the fire directly to the house, said Ellis and Lori Ferris with Benton County Emergency Services.

Arborvitae are one of the biggest offenders in the Tri-Cities because of how prevalent they are and the fact they hide dead branches inside their thick evergreen shell.

People don’t need to replace their lawns with concrete, though, Ferris said. The WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan and Douglas counties put together a catalog to help people find plants that will survive in Eastern Washington’s climate and not create a fire hazard. People can find it online at bit.ly/EWAplants.

If you want to know more about what plants are safe in various locations, Ferris is going to be at Job’s Nursery in Pasco from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday to talk about fire-resistant plants.

Other tips include making sure you have siding and roofing that can resist a fire, and keep the space around your decks and outbuildings clear of flammable materials.

Along with providing fire safety tips, contacts for the fire department and an update on how to prepare for an evacuation, firefighters will be sharing information about CodeRED. The service alerts people to emergencies near them.

People can sign up by going to www.bces.wa.gov or calling 509-628-2600 in Benton County or visiting www.franklinem.org or calling 509-545-3546 in Franklin County.

People visiting the websites can click on the CodeRED icon and follow the instructions from there.

Next steps

The trip to the Kennewick neighborhoods is only the first firefighters plan to make this year to places that border wildland, Ellis said.

While they won’t be able to offer inspections, they are working to put together a checklist to help people make their home safer.

“We want to get them the information now, but we are in the development of a comprehensive home inspection that is going to be available, as well as a comprehensive checklist for us that we can go out and do evaluations of the homes on a community-wide basis.” Ellis said.

For more information about the Firewise program and other ways to protect your home, you can visit the Kennewick Fire Department website at bit.ly/KFDFirewise.

Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.