EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLE
Outside of the home used to be highly flammable rosemary bushes.
Residents might not realize it, but there is “fuel” all around most homes. A grant from Firewise and the Oregon Department of Forestry could help area homeowners like Kim Scofield of Cottage Grove take the necessary measures toward fireproofing their homes.
Just before the Holiday Farm Fires in 2020, Firewise Grant Program officials had reviewed Scofield’s home near Craig Loop, so she knew to prepare with water tanks and a generator. Recent upgrades were not without sacrifice, Scofield said, recalling the sad removal of a highly flammable tree whose branches slumped onto the roof.
She was worried the program would call for the removal of most of the trees close to her house, but Firewise experts recommended removing only the dead materials from becoming fuel.
“We found out we can reasonably mitigate some of the risks, so it was worth it,” Scofield said.
Justin Patten, ODF fire planning forester, said the most critical step is often the most overlooked: Clearing the “fuels” around the home and keeping up that maintenance.
Patten said lower rainfall totals this year could lead to another bad fire season.
Cottage Grove City Manager Richard Meyers wrote in a newsletter to residents there that March and April had record dryness levels, and May is predicted to be the same. Lane County will likely experience severe-to-extreme drought this summer, according to The National Weather Service.
Patten said two of the biggest concerns are a fire making contact with a home and embers that the wind could carry a half a mile or more.
For landowners, he said, reducing fire fuel within the first five feet of the home is essential. Clearing 30 feet from the home is the minimum, he said, and 100 feet ideal.
“Obviously more distance cleared from the house is better, but if you can get that first 30 feet manicured, lean and green, plus a five-foot non-flammable area all the way around, that will go a long way.”
Highly flammable rosemary bushes used to cradle the front walkway of Kim’s house – those were one of the first hazards to go, but Firewise didn’t sacrifice a good-looking landscape for safety.
EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLE
Firewise Program Manager Meia Matsuda shows where the dead branches used to be, which were a fire hazard.
“Her house is a good example of showing how you can live in harmony with nature while being firewise,” said Firewise program manager Meia Matsuda.
Other precautions in the Scofield home renovation included a cement fiberboard home exterior, replacing the wood-shake roof, clearing the gutters, installing vent protection, and Firewater tanks.
ODF also hosts community events that encourage landowners to clear their dead materials to the road, then ODF takes care of the disposal. Justin said at least 15 to 20 homes participated.
Meanwhile, Scofield said she is encouraging her neighbors to apply for the Firewise grant – hoping to increase the safety of the neighborhood one cleared property at a time.
To apply for a Firewise grant through May 28, visit lanecounty.org/firewise.