Five volunteers spent Saturday morning cutting branches, raking leaves and clearing gutters for a Cape Ferrelo couple to ensure their house is more resistant to fire and allow emergency vehicles to easily negotiate their driveway.
After a cabin at Whaleshead Resort caught fire and threatened the units and ranches above it, Cape Ferrelo Rural Fire Protection District Chief Aaron Johnson wanted to get more proactive about fire mitigation, the work involved to make a home more resistant to fire.
Then the Chetco Bar fire started, forcing many residents to evacuate. The fire eventually torched 191,125 acres, and burned six homes and several outbuildings in the Gardner Ridge area.
Johnson developed a plan: Every first weekend of the month, he will gather volunteers to help their neighbors reduce the risk of losing their homes in a catastrophic fire.
JoAnn Jimerson doesn’t want her home to be among the casualties in the next big one.
“I live here,” she said, snipping branches from an overgrown rhododendron tree. “I want to help my neighbors.”
Helping neighbors is key in fire mitigation, Johnson explained, because if one household does everything possible to protect their home from fire, but their neighbor doesn’t, the work can be a moot point.
Jimerson and others gathered at the Cape Ferrelo firehouse to discuss plans for the excursions.
First, Johnson contacts neighbors, particularly the elderly or those unable to do the work themselves, to see if they’re interested in having their lot mitigated for fire. Under his direction, the volunteers arrive with shovels, chainsaws, ladders, pick-axes, pruners, loppers and other tools, and assess the home.
A large tree hanging over a chimney might need branches cut and needles cleared from roof gutters. Vegetation growing too close to the house might need to be cut back, along with that along the driveway. Addresses need to be visible. Firewood should be piled away from the house.
“And what about your own house?” Jimerson said. “A lot of time, you don’t even know what’s around your own house. He really opened my eyes.”
Deane McConnell, of the Winchuck River area and whose neighborhood was threatened in the Chetco Bar Fire, said she was there to learn — and share that knowledge with her neighbors.
“I’d like our areas to get its act together, as well,” she said. “And this is a great place to meet like-minded people, people who are not afraid to do physical labor and make their neighborhood safer.”
Johnson said he’d hoped news of his monthly fire mitigation program would spread by word-of-mouth, neighbor by neighbor.
“We asked everyone to talk to their neighbor, especially the elderly or those who can’t do the work themselves,” Johnson said. “I figured we’d get more people to clean up their own property. They’d see people doing it and take the initiative, take it to heart.”
The handful who gathered Saturday spent three hours cutting branches away from a driveway entrance and address post, raking leaves and other debris from beneath trees and loading it all up to be hauled away.
Johnson hopes more residents show up to volunteer for the December event, noting people don’t have to have special skills.
Carpenters, painters and roofers are often comfortable scaling ladders and clearing gutters, but others might prefer to stay on the ground and rake leaves or pile branches in pickup beds. It’s all needed, he said.
“It gives you peace of mind — and you get a good night’s rest — knowing you helped your neighbor,” he said. “If people acted like that all the time, we’d have a better county.”
For more information about joining the Cape Ferrelo Fire Department, participating in fire mitigation on the first Saturday of each month, or to have a house assessed for fire resistance, contact Johnson at 541-813-9461.