Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Is your home wildfire-ready?

Federal grant to make homes next to BLM lands safe from fire ends this fall


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

Funds from a federal grant to make Blaine County homes next to BLM lands safer from the threat of wildfires like last summerís Castle Rock Fire will no longer be available after Sept. 30. Photo by Mountain Express

Time is running out on a federal grant that funds fuels reduction work in areas at risk of wildfire that are adjacent to U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands in Blaine County.

After Sept. 30, funds from the BLM's Communities at Risk grant will no longer be available locally, leaving Blaine County Firewise without its main funding source. The grant was scheduled to run out last fall, but leftover funds have allowed it to continue through this year.

Blaine County, in cooperation with local fire departments, obtained the grant in 2004.

Since then, firefighters working with the Blaine County Firewise program have assessed homes located within the wildland-urban interface. As part of their work, firefighters offer recommendations to homeowners and provide free help removing brush and trees.

The wildland-urban interface is the area where homes or other buildings meet forest or other natural fuels.

Throughout the county, Firewise crew members have identified thousands of homes located within the interface in Carey, Smiley Creek and the Wood River Valley, Blaine County Firewise Coordinator Angie Grant-Kettleband said. One of the program's main purposes is to educate the public on what they can do to protect their homes from wildfire.

"So they themselves will continue to do it for years to come," she said.

While it may come as a surprise, some of the impacts of last summer's major wakeup call—the fast-moving 48,520-acre Castle Rock Fire—have already begun to decline, Grant-Kettleband said. She said Firewise participants saw an initial jump in the number of local homeowners who called to take advantage of the program in the weeks and months after the August-to-September blaze, which threatened a number of homes surrounding Ketchum and in more outlying areas.

But those calls have already begun to drop, she said.

"People are not thinking about it as much as last fall," she said.

Many people seem to believe the county has already seen its big fire and won't be threatened by another one anytime soon, Grant-Kettleband said.

"Which isn't the case," she said.

The Firewise program is primarily concerned with a home's defensible space. That is the area between a house and an oncoming wildfire where vegetation has been modified to reduce the wildfire threat and to provide an opportunity for firefighters to effectively defend the structure, a Firewise pamphlet states.

County homeowners also have the option to team up with their neighbors to make their areas safe from wildfire with the help of a separate federal grant, Grant-Kettleband said. She said this could include homes in a cul-de-sac or just a few homes grouped together.

"They can become what's called a Firewise Community," she said.

One of the benefits of becoming a Firewise Community is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will place them on the top of their list if a wildfire or similar threat poses a risk to the community, Grant-Kettleband said. Neighborhoods that band together to remove fuels—which can be paid for by the grant—can continue to apply for the funding, she said.

"They can apply for it each year," she said.

Homeowners who have taken advantage of the Blaine County Firewise program in the past and have implemented recommended actions to make their homes more safe can also contact the program to have their files updated, Grant-Kettleband noted. By providing local fire departments with the most up-to-date information for their home's firewise status, responding firefighters know more prior to responding to a wildfire, she said.

"We know exactly what their home looks like," she said.

To schedule a visit from the Blaine County Firewise program at your home or to learn how to become a Firewise Community contact Grant-Kettleband at (208) 788-7474. More information on the program can also be found at www.bcfirewise.com.




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