By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

Local professionals taught residents how to protect their homes from the next wildfire at a Citizen Fire Academy April 28 at the Event Center on the Beach.

Oregon State University Extension Service hosted the seminar. Participants began with classroom activities and OSU’s Kara Baylog moderated a slideshow of information on who fights fires, fire science, defensible space, the home ignition zone and fire-resistant landscaping and building materials.

During a firewise planting exercise, plants, bushes, grasses and trees were placed on a table so participants could touch, smell and evaluate their fire potential.

Each participant took a plant and used a set of criteria to evaluate it and decide how close to the house it could be safely planted –– or whether it should be avoided.

Baylog had each person present a plant and discuss their findings before OSU’s Norma Klien and other professionals offered their advice.

Overall, firefighters and forestry officials recommended deciduous plants like the Japanese maple, citing its moist leaves and shorter stature because it would not hang over the house.

Baylog said though it drops its leaves, “the leaves, when dry, may flash but don’t generally burn and when they fall, they degrade quickly.”

When one of the plants turned out to be manzanilla, the firefighters said, “kill it all.”

Klien and firefighters recommended rhododendron as having moist and green leaves, but added it must be pruned and the ground cleaned after.

Books and pamphlets were available at the seminar and online.

Curry County Emergency Coordinator Jeremy Dumire and Coos Forest Protective Association Assistant (CFPA) Unit Forester Brett Weidemiller reminded participants to avoid planting any bush or grass under trees or allowing bushes or grasses to spread under trees because they become ladder fuels and helped fires jump from the ground to the trees and thus allowed the fire to jump from tree top to tree top.

Dumire informed participants that the Oregon Department of Forestry, CFPA and other forestry agencies cannot properly fight structure fires because they are not properly equipped.

Their trucks and equipment are for stopping wildfires and creating breaks, he said.

The firefighters said residents could consider home-based systems, but they need to practice and remember a generator is a must to pump from a well. Also, most fire and forestry departments use 2.5 inch national fire thread, so, if a tank or a well is to provide them with water, a valve with this thread must be installed.

Robert Franson of CFPA introduced Firewise Communities and encouraged residents to join.

A Firewise Community registers with the state’s firewise liaison, follows firewise procedures and can obtain grant money to clear areas and protect dwellings and neighborhoods.

“We can provide people to do the heavy lifting,” Franson said. “We can clear and cut brush out to 200 feet.”

To inquire about Firewise Communities, call Robert Franson at 541- 347-3400.

In the afternoon, Gold Beach Fire Chief Tyson Krieger explained last fall’s Beach Blaze fire on site. The Beach Blaze ripped across the beach in Gold Beach and there were numerous structures nearby.

Krieger said the fire was likely started by fireworks and quickly got out of control. He said the beach grass was exceedingly dry, and because there had not been a fire there in years, driftwood, stumps and old roots came into play.

Once the fire reached the shore pines, it began to “leapfrog” from tree to tree, and at one point a firefighter was in the field near the trees spraying water at the embers in the sky to stop them from spreading.

One firefighter was hospitalized with smoke inhalation, Krieger said, and he was surprised more people were not injured.

“I was sure we were going to have fatalities,” he said. “People were running through the smoke and flames to escape the beach.”

He said they were able to beat the blaze because they had urban water hookups, some nearby structures were stucco, and the local visitor center created a safe staging area and its paved parking lot and other areas served as fire breaks.

Plans for the area include adding access trails and fire breaks so trucks and firefighters can more deeply access the beach.

Clearing a larger area and encouraging residents to clear property would reduce transient camping and unattended fires, Krieger said.

“Transients account for 40 percent or more of local fires,” he added.

The group then drove to a residence in the Indian Hills neighborhood above the Rogue River. Weidemiller walked the group around the house and commented on factors contributing to the relative safety or danger they presented during a wildfire.

Weidemiller said Indian Hills was comprised of 45 homes surrounded by light flashy fuel and no hydrants. He noted it as a perfect example of an urban-rural interface.

The house was purchased in 1991 and clearing and other measures to protect against wildfires have been ongoing since then.

The good thing is that residents are “dialed-in” about fire prevention, he said. But there is only one way in and one way out, and some roads and driveways are too narrow for fire trucks.

At the example house, Weidemiller noted the descending slope had been cleared and this was necessary for safety because fire moves rapidly uphill.

He said the ascending hill on the other side of the house was safe as well even though trees were much closer to the dwelling.

The fire and ambient heat will move up the trees and ascend the hill moving away from the house on that side, according to Franson.

The owners had replaced more flammable evergreens with redwoods, he noted, but pointed to a eucalyptus tree in the backyard and called it a Roman candle.

Weidemiller also recommended removing the highly flammable tree.

The owners disagreed with each other on keeping the eucalyptus and so far, it remained.

They had cleared a wide slope below the house, were extending a clearing on one side of the house, had pruned tree branches well above the ground and had cleared everything from under their deck.

The roads were well paved, Weidemiller noted, but the driveway curved too tightly for most fire trucks.

While examining the house, he said positives included composite siding, double-pane windows, a flat front without alcoves to trap fire, stainless steel instead of plastic or aluminum soffit vents and a composite roof.

Officials also said the elevated deck would be excellent for water hose placement. They recommended placing pesticides and other chemicals in a place where they were unlikely to burn and create noxious fumes and leaving hoses and sprinklers and ladders for firefighters to use.

Weidemiller suggested turning off propane tanks, opening all gates, and clearing driveways.

Let firefighters know if there is water available in a tank, he said, or if the pump is running or could be run with a generator.

The Citizen Fire Academy, presented by Oregon State University extension service, was supported by the Oregon Department of Forestry, the CFPA, Curry County Emergency Services, the Gold Beach Fire Department and the U.S. Forest Service.

Reach Boyd C. Allen at ballen@currypilot.com .

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