It's been a wet spring on the East Coast. But out west, it's hot and dry — conditions that could make this a bad year for wildland fires. And with millions of houses located where wildfire could spread through a neighborhood, that means elevated risk.
In Colorado, record heat and dry, windy conditions are supporting the spread of dangerous fires this week, notes weather expert Jeff Masters on his Weather Underground blog ("Record heat fuels destructive fires in drought-baked Colorado"). "The most destructive fire in Colorado Tuesday was the Black Forest fire burning near Colorado Springs," writes Masters. "The fire destroyed over 60 buildings and forced the evacuation of several thousand people."
Southern California is also seeing more fires than usual, reports the Rancho Bernardo Patch ("2013 Wildfire Season 'Tougher Than Usual,' Fires Up 85%," by Shauntel Lowe). "California has already seen 1,569 wildfires this year, about 500 more than the same period last year and 85 percent higher than average," says the Patch. "With a long, hot and dangerous summer a real possibility, county Supervisor Dianne Jacob and public safety officials urged residents to protect their homes by creating a 100-foot buffer zone."
It's a message that is echoing in other parts of the West. George Weurthner, author of the book Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy, focused on Montana in an editorial in the Helena Independent Record ("Helena at risk at losing homes from wildfire"). "I predict that Helena is going to burn," writes Weurthner. "I can't say when, but I anticipate there will be substantial loss of homes from wildfire. Contrary to popular assumptions, current fuel reduction treatments on national forests will fail to protect homes and home owners, community leaders and others should not be lulled into complacency."
"Ultimately the cheapest and most effective way to protect a community from wildfire is to reduce the flammability of the homes," argues Weurthner. "Protective measures such as metal roofs, fire-resistance landscaping, and other fire-wise measures can almost guarantee a home will survive even a frontal attack from a major wildfire."
Colorado fire official Rebecca Samulski offered advice to homeowners in the Cortez Journal ("To survive wildfire, get home ready"). "Most residents who live in high-risk areas are surprised to learn that the flaming front of a fire is not what most commonly burns down homes," wrote Samulski. "The intense heat of a crown fire does not usually last long enough to ignite most homes from the radiant heat of the fire if the crowning fire is at least 30 feet from the home. More than half of the homes that burn during wildfires burn from creeping fires or ember showers. This is why it is critical to harden your home and the immediate surroundings, in addition to creating defensible space." Samulski goes on with details about fire-resistant landscaping, roofs, and decks.
And the Reno Gazette-Journal has details on dry-climate landscaping from extension educator JoAnne Skelly ("Landscaping for wildfire defense"). Highlights: "Create a noncombustible area at least 5 feet wide around the base of your home... Keep an area of at least 30 feet from the home 'lean, clean and green.' ...On a flat terrain, shrubs should be separated from one another by at least twice the height of the shrub. Distance between evergreen tree canopies should be at least 10 feet. These distances increase with increasing slope."