More than ever because of February’s massive snowstorm, fire officials with the Douglas Forest Protective Association are urging homeowners to take time this spring to create defensible space around their homes to help reduce the risk of damage from wildfires.

Spokesman Kyle Reed, of the DFPA, which protects 1.6 million acres in Douglas County, says creating defensible space is a relatively simple, effective way to reduce a home’s wildfire risk, for little or no cost.

“Even in a normal year there’s annual maintenance that needs to be done like cleaning out of gutters, and just from normal storms you get the downed materials,” Reed said. “But this year with the snowstorm, that has multiplied with the damage that’s happened.”

February’s storm left more than 31,000 without power, closed roads and led to numerous downed trees and limbs. Despite the massive cleanup since February, Reed said remaining downed trees and limbs will make it difficult to access fires and provide extra fuel for fires to burn.

Reed said it’s important to keep the property maintained well beyond the cleanup of the storm damage.

“The vegetation grows back quickly, but once you get it to that (cleaned-up) state, maintaining it is a lot easier,” Reed said. “It’s going to be a multi-year problem for areas that don’t get cleaned up this year.”

By having adequate defensible space, Reed said the risk of a wildfire spreading from the surrounding vegetation to a nearby home is greatly reduced.

Homeowners can create defensible space by pruning nearby trees, removing underbrush, mowing tall grass, and by removing all dead or dying vegetation within 200 feet of a structure.

In addition to removing excess vegetation, residents should look at other flammable materials around their home. Firewood piles, gas cans, propane tanks, and lumber piles should all be stored at least 30 feet away from structures during fire season. Other common everyday items made of plastic, rubber, wood, or other flammable materials are also potential fuel for a wildfire and should be stored accordingly during fire season.

Keeping the grass mowed short, Reed said, can keep the flames much lower and make the fire easier to fight.

For those who are overwhelmed by the debris and need some help in cleaning up the storm damage in the rural areas, he recommends checking with neighbors to see if they can help with the cleanup. But he adds that it needs to be done soon with fire season just around the corner.

“It’s really important for homeowners to take the time to check out their property before it gets hot and dry and there are restrictions on chain saw use and other equipment,” Reed said. “And it’s important whether you live 10 miles out of town or right in the middle of town.”

This year has the potential, Reeds said, to be a really bad fire year. But he added that many of the fires can be prevented.

“Over the last 10 years, 77% of our fires have been human-caused,” he said.

Reed said fire is a good tool for burning debris, but check with your fire department for restrictions and follow their guidelines.

For information about creating defensible space, contact the Douglas Forest Protective Association at 541-672-6507, or call your local fire department.

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Dan Bain is the health reporter for The News-Review. He previously worked at KPIC and 541 Radio.

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