Wildfire Recovery: Next Step by Camp Kaye

THE NEXT STEP by Camp Kaye  (Recent Nextdoor Contributor)

I had someone ask me how we can make our neighborhoods safer from a fire perspective. They were likely hoping for species treatment, clearance specs ~ real data on which to base an action plan for protection of their house.

First, perspective. We’ve moved into and live in the midst of nature. Our houses are constructed primarily of wood. Trees surround our homes. Occupied with other life priorities and no in-our-face fires to force sobriety until now, crowding houses and businesses into urban subdivisions and neighborhoods, we’ve built an environment readily conducive, when conditions align, to active fire.

Ask a structure guy (structure firefighter) what a safe building location would look like and he might say, “One building, no others for 300 feet, with a solid expanse of green grass or bare dirt and absolutely nothing flammable in between.” This may or may not be an exaggeration (dependent upon the size and nature of the structure), but compare it to what we have created and a glimpse of our at-risk housing reality emerges. 

An aside: I don’t ascribe to the “battle against fire” perspective, the idea fire is our enemy. Fire is a beautiful, dynamic, immensely powerful act of nature we harness daily for our use, comfort and survival. Our automobiles rely on contained explosions in our engines to get us where we’re going, our meals, on burners and barbecues. When our negligence and complacency leave us vulnerable fire only does what it does naturally. We have moved into its environs, not the other way around.

How can I insure my home will not vanish to flame? I can’t. Can I do things to lessen the risk and increase my safety? Yes. Before I start, though, I’m going to get specific about my concerns and goals. Given an entire structure is hard to protect, what within it am I most afraid of losing? What could not be replaced? My history. Family photos. Hard drives, maybe. Animals. What if I start by making a plan around those?

The things we treasure are often spread throughout our homes. What items could be concentrated in a single spot in a given room? I imagine a fireproof safe or enclosure, doors open housing my precious effects. Fire comes, I close the doors and am able to focus on other things as the most important treasures are safe. When faced with a burning tree on a wildfire, nothing but stilts of smoking wood keeping it standing, I don’t want distractions. I want all my attention on mitigating that snag. I want the same if I’m evacuating, helping neighbors or doing whatever else I might need to when fire strikes.

The solutions here are open to brainstorming and research, the safe idea just an example. Two choices become apparent: leave those items in a protected place onsite or take them with me. I personally favor the former as fires can hit fast. In the midst of a potential inferno we are trying to quickly save items that will toast to ash in seconds. To accomplish this requires our creating a second environment inured from and within the first. This juncture in the discussion is ripe for a structure firefighter’s input. What safes truly work? What tends to survive in house fires? What parts of a home incur less heat than others?

If we opt for taking things with us how do we keep those valuables accessible for quick loading and transport? All this requires thinking ahead, strategic planning.

Next question (still not to the yard, yet): Should I lose my abode, how could I best protect my ability to house myself and my family? I’m not a promoter of excessive insurance, but I’d look into it. Or put an amount away each month toward that eventuality to be used for whatever later as the fact is most homes never burn and insurance premiums are not returned. 

I know some of you might feel frustration at not having structure recommendations offered here. I consider myself a realist and giving misleading suggestions without urging understanding of the bigger picture is not my bent. With the above pursuits taken care of or at least in planning, boasting higher margins of short-term attainment potential than more time-consuming landscape fire hazard reduction methods, we could finally approach the latter, another conversation, encompassing real measures for reducing the fire risk to our properties, homes and businesses. None of this is to say we couldn’t be working on all this simultaneously, but my point is to first suggest consideration of the reality we face, then the harnessing of our energies in the most productive directions possible.

Camp Kaye, with over thirty years in fire, is owner/operator of Heartwood Wildfire Timber Falling LLC, Heartwood Tree Service and certified as a Fire Hazard Assessor through the Oregon Department of Forestry,