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Homeowners prepare for fire danger

By By Chris Cole
Published On: Jun 04 2013 11:48:51 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 05 2013 11:49:47 AM CDT

I met with homeowners in the Johnny Creek area to talk about the upcoming fire season and what they're doing to prepare.

POCATELLO, Idaho -

After the Charlotte Fire destroyed more than 60 homes in Pocatello last year, homeowners in the Johnny Creek area are preparing for the upcoming fire season.

They spoke about their work with a local nonprofit organization that is giving incentives to folks who cut back on trees and create defensible space on their property.

"That tree is really too close to the home," said Wildland Fire Educator Danny Mann, pointing at a large juniper tree next to Sandra and Bob Brown's home.

The Browns say they'll remove the tree as a preventative measure. Sandra said although she regrets seeing the trees go, she recalled evacuating during last year's fire, thinking how much she regretted not taking down the trees sooner.

"After the fire last year, I knew they had to go," she said.

In the 12 years they've lived in this home, they've cleared well over 100 trees. Junipers, maples and oaks provided plenty of shade, and a few new leafy trees were stretching up to compete with the junipers next to them.

The junipers will be removed this summer.

“You replace them with trees that are much better than the junipers," Brown said.

"Better" meaning less likely to burst into a ball of flame. The local fire departments refer to them as "gasoline trees" for a reason.

The Wildland Fire Education and Prevention Program is helping clear trees by offering rewards to those homeowners. The program offers a 70 percent reimbursement, up to $3,000 for any trees taken out of the area to improve defensible space around homes.

"So it's kind of an incentive program to get your neighbors aboard,” Mann said. “You get that 70 percent reimbursement, and it really really helps with the cost of doing the work on the property."

The WFEP is a grant program under the Bureau of Land Management, housed in the Three Rivers Resource Conservation and Development Council.

The program works with all the local fire prevention agencies like the Pocatello and Chubbuck fire departments to ensure fire safety standards are met in Bannock, Bingham and Power counties, as well as the Fort Hall Reservation.

Mann also stressed how important it is to get neighbors to work around the property lines where trees may be thick.

"The real critical areas are that 4-foot zone and that 30-foot zone, and getting some of that vegetation away from the house," he said.

When Mann inspects a house, he takes into consideration a number of factors. The inspection starts at the 4-foot zone, works into the 30-foot zone, and even into the 100-foot zone around a person's house.

He considers wind patterns in the area, the power lines, and the slopes of the nearby mountains.

Even the type of materials a home is made out of will make a difference.

The Browns and their neighbors had done a large amount of work.

One of their neighbors also had a large pile of juniper cuttings ready for the woodchipper. Several more trees in the area were marked with ribbon, signaling they were not far behind the other cuttings.

They also explained how they were “lifting the skirts” of some of the juniper trees there, which means trimming the bottom branches to a more manageable height.

But with the space she's creating in her own yard, there's still a chance a neighbor's house could overwhelm her home in a fire. Her concern was validated by Mann.

He said some homes with good defensible space were lost because nearby homes didn't clear away dense trees.

The Browns said their neighborhood has become closer by working together to make sure their homes are protected in the event of a fire like last year's.

"You've got to work together because you're only as safe as your neighbor is," Mann added.

Experts recommend trees be 20 feet apart. However, he said many people don't realize the trunks being a good distance away from each other isn't enough.

The space between branches needs to be at least 20 feet apart. Otherwise, fires can leap from one tree to the other, and without defensible space, a blaze can go from tree to home in seconds.

Mann also said homeowners can still have a good amount of trees, as long as they follow these rules. He talked about clumping or grouping trees together.

If you are interested in participating in the Wildland Fire Education and Prevention Program, go to http://www.3riversrcd.org/WFEP.htm for more details as to how to keep your home safe. 

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