Dry Winter Prompts Northwest Wildfire Warnings

March 22, 2005

With mountain snowpacks running 75 percent below seasonal averages and drought conditions projected throughout the Pacific Northwest, emergency managers are reportedly braced for a potentially lengthy and intense fire season.

Scores of brush, range and timber fires have already flared up in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, and according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security FEMA Regional Director John Pennington, it’s not too soon for homeowners to wade into the fray.

“This last winter was the fifth driest in over 100 years, for both sides of the Cascades. With almost unlimited fuels and denser underbrush, western wildfires can burn hotter than their eastern counterparts, can be even more difficult for firefighters to combat, and can threaten more densely populated communities,” said Pennington. “An aware, responsible and committed public can play a major role in saving lives and safeguarding property, particularly in Western Washington and Oregon.”

In addition to exercising extreme caution with campfires, fireworks, trash fires, grills and other heat sources, Pennington encouraged all homeowners to embrace the common sense commitment to pre-disaster wildfire mitigation accepted in more traditionally recognized wildfire-prone areas.

“Now is the time to create defensible perimeters by clearing flammable debris away from homes and structures, particularly those in urban interface areas and near forested tracts. Cut back flammable weeds and brush, and trim tree branches up at least 15 feet,” said Pennington. “Of course, fire escapes and evacuation plans are a must, and should include current phone numbers for emergency service providers, just in case. By all means make sure property entrances are clearly posted, and consider expanding roads and driveways (12 to 16 feet wide), with adequate emergency vehicle turnaround space.”

Additional wildfire mitigation measures include:

* Clean roof surfaces and gutters free of pine needles, leaves, and branches regularly.
* Treat wood siding, cedar shingles, exterior wood paneling and other highly combustible materials with fire retardant chemicals.
* Space landscape plants to limit fire from spreading to surrounding vegetation or structures.
* Store gasoline only in approved containers, and well away from occupied buildings.
* Store firewood and other combustibles away from structures.
* Keep firefighting tools (ladders, shovels, rakes and water buckets) handy, and water hoses connected.

For a free copy of FEMA’s 200 plus-page comprehensive guide to citizen preparedness, Are You Ready? Log on to www.fema.gov, or call 1-800-BE READY.

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