For months, the sounds of log trucks, chainsaws and yarder bells have echoed through the canyons of the areas impacted by the 2020 Archie Creek Fire.

Today, those sounds have been joined by that of cement trucks, the high-pitched spin of circular saws and the melodic rhythm of framing hammers.

The process of rebuilding has already begun in the Glide and Idleyld Park communities, specifically in the Rock Creek drainage, which saw a significant loss of homes due to the Archie Creek Fire. For the past two months, fire officials in Douglas County have been stressing the importance of defensible space countywide.

From Azalea to Drain to Scottsburg to Glide, crews have worked to help homeowners trim up and clear the excess fuels around their homes in anticipation of what has all the markings of another active wildfire season.

A total of 109 homes and numerous outbuildings were lost due to the intensity and speed at which the Archie Creek Fire burned. However, a number of homes were left largely untouched as a result of taking preventative steps to remove fire-prone fuels.

Fire season on most Douglas County lands went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, nearly two weeks earlier than normal, which means time is running out for homeowners to start building or fortifying a defensible space around their homes.

What exactly is defensible space?

The National Fire Protection Association recommends the “5-30-100” rule as a guide to managing landscaping and other foliage that could be prone to wildfire.

The first step is taking a look at the vegetation within 5 feet of the home and outbuildings. While having vegetation — like arbor vitae or other shrubs — provides a sense of privacy from the outside, those and other fire-prone vegetation may put a home at serious risk in the event of a wildfire.

“You really don’t want to see a lot of vegetation within the first 5 feet,” said Kyle Reed, spokesperson for the Douglas Forest Protective Association. “People will want to plant stuff around the windows for privacy, but you really want to have that buffer around the house.”

Next, look at the area from 5 to 30 feet from the home. Make sure any underbrush has been cleared, especially near driveways (a natural fire break), patios, decks and propane tanks. Trees within this 30-foot zone should be trimmed so that the lowest limbs are no less than 6 to 10 feet off the ground, depending on the maturity of the tree. To prevent “crowning,” where fire can pass from treetop to treetop — predominantly in conifers — try to keep treetops as much as 18 feet apart.

In the 30- to 100-foot zone — Reed recommends 200 feet as an outer boundary for many rural homes — have a continued focus on the elimination of fire-prone ground cover, and look to keep a safe distance between treetops in the canopy.

From 30 to 60 feet, treetops should ideally be approximately 12 feet apart, the national association says. From 60 to 100 or 200 feet, a 6-foot gap between trees will help slow crowning before it has a chance to reach the home.

Also, make sure the home has a clear driveway in the event fire personnel are called to provide structural defense.

“We’ve been going from house to house in the areas we’re working doing a fire triage,” Reed said. “How does the ingress look? The egress? What is the water supply?”

Reed was part of a team dispatched to the December 2017 Thomas Fire, a nearly 300,000-acre fire that impacted Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in Southern California. For the first week, his team was working one day in front of the fire’s anticipated spread, performing fire triage for homes.

“That was all we did, triaging homes,” Reed said. “We would find a home that we could do a few things quickly and help keep them protected.”

While another fire like Archie Creek isn’t likely, one can never say never. With low rainfall in Douglas County throughout April and May, and temperatures expected to jump into the 90s to kick off June, any extra work homeowners can do now could mean saving their lifetime investment.

“There is no guarantee that a house is going to survive with defensible space, but it could make a huge difference,” Reed said.

Donovan Brink can be reached at dbrink@nrtoday.com and 541-957-4219.

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Cops and Courts Reporter

Donovan Brink is the cops and courts reporter for The News-Review.

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