Wildfire Mitigation – Starting Early

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
article image

It never hurts to start doing wildfire mitigation as early as possible.  We presently have two lightning struck trees  that have died, or are dying and need to be cut down as soon as it is safe to do so.  In order to get a cable on them  and winch them away from the house it is necessary to trim limbs about 20′ up on the tree.  They are about 50′ feet from the house and are big enough to reach the house should they fall wrong. They  presented less a hazard than other trees closer to the house so we left them to last.  Once the snow melts and they can be accessed  safely it will be time to bring them down. So today it was time to start getting them prepared for removal.  That meant slogging through the deep snow to trim limbs as high as I could reach with my long handled limb trimmer.

I put on my high boots to wade out through the snow in order to get to them and promptly sank into the soft snow up to my hips.  The distance I had to go was only 70′ angling down hill in order to reach them from the wood shed; which seemed like the easiest approach.  As I stepped off the wood shed deck  I was able to take 3-4 steps before I sank into the snow up to my hips.  As I struggled along in the waist deep snow I got stuck about half way to the trees and toppled over. Getting myself back up turned out to be a  struggle.  If my feet sank into three feet deep snow so did my hands when I went to push off the thin crust of hardened snow.  As I lay there floundering around like a turtle on its back I finally wiggled around to where I could get upright again.  Suddenly that 245″ of annual snow fall did not seem quite  as appealing as I was flopping  around in it and I totally forgot all the beneficial uses it provided.

Finally at the tree, I trimmed the branches  to about 20′ high to  make it easier to attach a steel cable  high enough to provide leverage and make it fall in the direction I choose when the time is right.  Other trees have previously been cleared  approximately 50′ from the house and these trees will complete the wildfire mitigation preparation.  We did leave most of the aspen in place and a few other trees in  back that pose no wildfire hazard. Live Aspen trees have about 90% water and that makes them a little less combustible than other trees.  By trimming  limbs 20′ high we lessen the chance that a wildfire could get into the crowns of the trees from below.  We also thinned trees where there is  some distance between trees and they are not overly crowded.  It is very important to have a fire break well out from your home when you live in the mountains.  Coupled with the wind we sometimes receive in the mountains a wildfire can spread rapidly so if there is no combustible source that can jump to your home you stand a much better chance of preserving your home.  Our home has a metal roof, true stone exterior which makes it even less combustible than a log home or a home with wooden or vinyl siding.

More and more people seem to be moving to the mountains.  To move into the mountains and not take a potential wildfire seriously can be a grave error.  Then to further  build a log home, coat the exterior with linseed oil, leave trees/shrubs growing up close to the house and stack your firewood on the deck are all additional  hazards that could put your investment in peril should a wildfire occur.  Something else to be  considered is making sure heavy equipment has access to your home.  A 16′ or wider driveway should make suitable access for fire fighting equipment, providing it doesn’t have sharp turns.  While firefighters will usually do all they possibly can to save your home, a house that is nestled in the woods presents an  increased hazard  that puts them at personal risk and they easily could move on to a more defensible house.  It is ultimately your responsibility to make sure you have taken all the precautions needed to protect your property. While building within the trees may look cozy it may also put your home at increased risk.   

So starting early to complete fire mitigation around our home is essential – even if means having to wade through waist deep snow and end up with wet snow in my pockets.  Wild fires are a  serious threat to contend with and the more you do to keep any potential wildfire at bay the better.  To wait until a wildfire is closing in on you might  be to late to save your property.  It is also wise to have an alternative plan should a wildfire unexpectedly happen and the early notification system did not function as expected.  What would you do if you didn’t get the evacuation notification?  Our home is designed where we would have a fairly safe place to hunker down should the need arise.  While no place should be considered fully safe, the more you can prepare ahead of time the better your chances become.  We would evacuate if possible but that could turn out to be impossible therefore having a plan B in place is a good idea.  If you have any questions whether you have prepared properly, stop in and talk to your local Forester or Forest Service office.  They are usually more than willing to offer advice and provide you with materials that will help.  

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurrays lifestyle go to:http://www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368