March 30 – April 5, 2014 is Southwest Wildfire Awareness Week. This year’s theme is: Where We Live, How We Live, Living with Wildfire. The focus of the week is to increase awareness and promote actions that reduce the risk from wildfire to homes and communities.
Wildfire is a natural occurrence. The forests and the grasslands need fire to revitalize. It’s easy to let nature take its course when there are no homes involved. It’s a different matter when there are homes in or near wildlands. Whether you live on a ranch, in a development, or in town, everyone in Catron County lives in a Wildland Urban Interface. We’ve chosen to live here. With that choice comes the responsibility to protect our homes.
Several communities in Catron County have chosen to become FireWise Communities. This means homeowners within the community have made the effort to trim their trees and create defensible space around their homes. If your community isn’t already FireWise, now is the time to start taking action.
Use the excuse of Wildfire Awareness Week to start talking to your neighbors about a plan to make your neighborhood better able to withstand a wildfire. Perhaps you can have a work day where neighbors help neighbors get the job done. A word of caution regarding slash. Some people choose to throw slash into arroyos or canyons—places “out of sight.” This can be very dangerous if there is a wildfire. Winds tend to run up canyons, creating chimneys. With slash in the path, it could cause extreme fire behavior. The county chipper and a few friends can make quick work of a slash pile.
If you’re adding to your landscaping, consider FireWise plants. There are numerous lists online. Even more important than the plant selection is keeping the plants you do have watered and well maintained. If you use mulch, make sure that any mulch near the house is not flammable.
This is also a good time to take a walk around your house. Pay attention to any place wind -blown debris collects. These are the same places where airborne embers will collect if there is a nearby wildfire. Now that the weather is warming up, it’s time to take the fire wood off the porch and stack it a safe distance from the house.
Take a look around your property. Have you accumulated “treasures” that might interfere with efforts to protect your home? Can a big red truck even get onto your property, and is there space for it to turn around? Is your septic tank marked so trucks won’t collapse it and get stuck?
Escape routes are a big concern for fire fighters when evaluating whether they can defend a home during a wildfire.
Is your home at risk? If you are uncertain, call your local fire department. Someone can come out and help you assess your home and property. If you do everything you can to create defensible space and “fire proof” your home, are you guaranteed that your house will survive a wildfire? Absolutely not, but it does improve your chances.