It’s not only you. We all know Smokey Bear and his excellent advice on preventing wildfires. And for the most part, we do a good job; no one I know can remember a full-blown major wildfire in the valley itself. We have had some scares, a good-sized flair up in Game Creek, evacuation notices in Victor, the 1988 Yellowstone blaze, brush fires now and then, but for the most part, beautiful Teton Valley has been touched more by the smoke and sometimes ash fall from wildfires than the flame itself.
Whether it’s from being careful or being lucky or having great, fast responding firefighters, Teton Valley has done well when it comes to our summer fire season, but we are not immune. Instead of talking about how to prevent wildfires, which Smokey has already told us, let’s talk a little bit about what you can do to protect your life and property if one should happen here.
The concept of defensible space, as applied to wildfire protection, was defined by FEMA in 2008 as “an area around a building in which vegetation, debris, and other types of combustible fuels have been treated, cleared, or reduced to slow the spread of fire to and from the building.” This is a good time of year to look around your home and property and create defensible space; there may not be time when a wildfire threatens. It doesn’t have to be expensive; it’s not as costly as other fire suppression systems, but done right, it can be very effective.
Combustible trees and brush, wild or landscaping, allow a wildfire to spread faster. FEMA suggests a 3 zone system with the first zone, at least a 30-foot circle around the outer walls of the building you wish to protect, be cleared of all flammable materials. This doesn’t just mean vegetation, but also your firewood, combustible lawn furniture, even leaves and dead branches in your gutter and on your roof. While you’re at it, make sure no branches overhang your roof, especially your chimney. And fuel tanks… check to be sure they at least follow local codes about distance from a structure.
I would suggest making these zones evenly spaced in all directions without regard to prevailing wind. Fires create their own wind systems which can be very different from usual.
Zone two, the next area out, can contain your woodpile and some well-placed clumps of combustible vegetation, but with non-combustible material, like gravel or paved driveways and patios, between them to serve as fire breaks.
The third zone, your first line of defense against wildfire, should begin no less than 100 feet from your building and should be kept reasonably thinned and pruned, providing a smooth transition back to the natural environment.
There is much more to be learned and done, but the idea is always to keep things that will burn as far away from your home as possible to prevent the spread of the fire. Here are some things to read. Some use different dimensions or name the zones differently, but the most important thing is to get out there, use your head to make a plan, then use your hands to make the plan happen. And do it now, before the emergency starts.