High Prairie Dodged A Bullet

Jake Jakabosky

By now you’ve probably heard about the July 10 wildfire near the south end of Hartland Road. The van that burned to the ground torched the adjacent woods and fire spread rapidly eastward pushed by brisk winds.

Fortunately, High Prairie FD and multiple local volunteer fire departments were quickly on scene, followed by two hand crews digging fire trail. Next came two helicopters dipping water from Johnson Lake, a retardant plane from Dallesport and a dozer from Rural 7 Fire Department. Agencies on scene included High Prairie, Lyle, Centerville, Rural 7, DNR, and USFS – thanks to all. Law enforcement officers notified Mott Road residents that a Level 2 evacuation notice was in effect, meaning “Be packed up and ready to leave on short notice.” Fire crews worked well into the night to contain the fire, then mop any flames near the fire perimeter. With all the concerted effort, the fire was kept to just 14 acres.

High Prairie Fire Chief Tim Darland had nothing but praise for the joint effort. In a press release the next morning he wrote, “I am very impressed with our fire department, first responders, DNR, USFS and all the fire agencies that provided mutual aid to our District.  Outstanding efforts by all to save lives and property!”

This could have been a serious fire, consuming homes as it advanced northeastward. High Prairie dodged a major bullet this time. We should all take this as a warning to think seriously about fire prevention and what we need to do to protect our property from the next fire, which may not be stopped so quickly.

Humans cause 84% of all wildland fires, often through carelessness, parking a vehicle with a hot muffler in dry grass, a mower throwing sparks after hitting a rock, or an ATV or chainsaw with a bad spark arrestor. As High Prairie firefighter James Day reminds us below, there are about 170,000 vehicle fires like that van fire in the US annually. He points out that most of those fires could be controlled if folks would just carry a fire extinguisher in their vehicle and know how to use it. 

Please be aware the county burn ban is now in effect. Debris burning causes 29% of wildfires; and there are penalties for ignoring the ban.

Once again, now is the time to clean those gutters, remove leaves from under the deck, and move firewood and other combustibles from the top of the deck. Cut grass and brush within 20 to 30 feet of buildings, as flame height can be three times the height of the grass and produce incredible heat ahead of the flames.

Metal mesh with 1/4” or less openings should be installed under the deck. This will keep out leaves and windblown embers (and skunks!). Use that same mesh on open house soffits. Replace bark chip landscaping with gravel. 

Trim your ladder fuels. That means remove tree limbs up to at least 8’ off the ground to prevent tree crown fires. Remove shrubs and trim branches from close to your house and roof. Firefighters call Arbor Vitae and Juniper shrubs close to the house “gasoline on a stick.” Also trim trees and brush back from your driveway and cut overhanging limbs that will impede fire apparatus access. Is your house address sign readily visible, even at night and in thick smoke?

More details and ideas are available from Firewise at www.firewise.org.

Yes, we dodged a big one this time, thanks to a quick response by local fire departments and firefighting agencies. But your volunteer firefighters aren’t superheroes. They can’t always stop every fire or protect every property. So please be careful with ignition sources and do everything you can to make your home defensible.

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