Washington State is experiencing progressively more severe wildfires, heat waves, and smoky conditions. A wildfire is defined as any large, destructive fire that spreads quickly over woodland or brush. Drought and dry conditions are all that is needed to spread a wildfire, as 88% of wildfires are caused by human activity.
The year 2021 was the hottest and driest on record for Washington, leading to 674,249 acres being burned. While the 2022 wildfire season was not as severe, both rural and urban communities across the state face can expect an increased risk of property damage in the next few years.
Many school campuses in the state include wide open fields surrounded by woodland areas or brush, increasing wildfire exposures. These campuses, often left mostly unused during the hottest summer months, necessitate special preparation to prevent wildfire damage.
A part of this preparation is understanding the concept of defensible zones. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends a defensible space – free of leaves, debris, or other flammable materials – of up to 200 feet from a structure. The U.S. Department of Education and NFPA recommend creating there zones around structures with increasing protective measures within those 200 feet. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has put together excellent illustrations explaining this concept here.
As the school year comes to a close, please review the following first steps you can take to create defensible zones.
*Remove all dead/dying weeds, grass, plants, shrubs, trees, branches, and vegetative debris (leaves, needles, cones, bark, etc.) from roofs, outbuildings, decks, and other combustible structures.
*Trim trees regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees.
*Remove or prune flammable plants and shrubs near windows.
*Consider relocating garbage and recycling containers 10 feet from buildings.
*Ensure venting is unblocked by equipment, furniture, or storage.
*Appropriately store equipment and materials, paying special consideration to selfing labs, wood shops, and chem labs.
*Remove decorations/artwork from light fixtures, sprinkler heads, pipes, vents and radiators.
*Verify sprinkler press and operation.
*Ensure sprinkler heads have 18 inches of clearance.
*Contact the County Fire Marshal for an updated Fire Life Safety Inspection if one has not been completed in the past 12 months.
In addition to these items, WSRMP created a Wildfire Preparation Checklist addressing Buildings and Grounds, Smoke Events, and Power Outages with further defensible buildings preparation items.