An ounce of wildfire prevention

Alan Ross, a property owner west of Roseburg, Ore., mows grass to clear the ground around two bee hives and to give his equipment storage building defensive space in case of a wildfire. Fire prevention officials say it is ideal to have 200 feet of cleared space around barns and other outbuildings.

ROSEBURG, Ore. — Houses that provide shelter for people usually get all the attention when it comes to fire prevention, but farmers and ranchers must also take measures to protect their livestock and outbuildings, experts say.

Those measures were emphasized by Kyle Reed, the fire prevention and public information officer for the Douglas Fire Protective Association, and by Patrick Skrip, the association’s district manager, during a recent presentation to the Douglas County Livestock Association.

“It comes down to good housekeeping, to common sense,” Skrip said of preparing for the potential of fire. “There’s no county or state ordinance that requires you to do clean-up work, but the highest probability of success against fire is if you have cleaned up in advance. The responsibility falls to the property owner.”

Reed explained that it is ideal to have 200 feet of cleared space around barns and other outbuildings. He said for at least the first 5 feet from the structures, there should be no wood piles, stacked lumber, propane tanks, gas cans, above ground fuel tanks or other accessories.

Rolling equipment should ideally be parked at least 20 feet from structures and on bare dirt or pavement.

Up on the roof and in the rain gutters, dead leaves and needles should be removed, if possible.

Out to 30 feet around the structures, grass and weeds should be mowed down to 4 inches or less. Any trees with branches hanging over or near the structures should be delimbed.

Fuels such as shrubs, blackberry canes, poison oak, dead and dying trees, debris piles should also be removed if within 200 feet of structures. These potential fire fuels can be chipped, hauled to a landfill, burned during a wet season or composted.

“Annual maintenance is needed to maintain the suggested cleared space over time,” Reed said.

Other reminders included having an address sign for the property and its structures visible and not blocked by trees, branches or other obstacles and having roads cleared of any winter storm damaged trees and branches.

Notification should also be provided to the nearest fire department or association if there is a bridge that accesses the property and whether the crossing has any limitations, whether the roadway has turnaround space, whether there is more than one way in and out to a property and whether there are fuel breaks on the property such as other roads or driveways, walkways or trails.

Reed said it is important to have photos or videos of equipment, including the serial numbers of the equipment in case of damage or loss.

“Make sure those are documented and in a safe place so they don’t get destroyed by fire,” he said.

“Check on your insurance policy for coverage on hay storage, pumps, fences, equipment, outbuildings, livestock and emergency storage if needed,” he added.

Reed explained it is important to have a plan for livestock if pasture or hay supplies are burned.

“Make that plan ahead of time,” he said. “Who can help you move your livestock if needed, how are you going to move them and where? Make connections ahead of time.

“Have a list of your species, identifiers or tag numbers and locations because if they get scattered by a wildfire, it’ll be easier to identify them later,” he added.

He said if livestock are in a pasture with short grass and the fire is just creeping, the animals usually aren’t too bothered.

Drought conditions exist in Western Washington and the potential for wildfire as temperatures rise is high. Much of Northwest Oregon is short of its normal rainfall so that area will have above normal fire danger, according to Reed.

Thanks to late winter snow storms and rain, Southwest Oregon has had close to normal precipitation and is not currently suffering from drought conditions. But again, Reed explained, as temperatures rise, the land dries out and thunderstorms bring lightning strikes, the fire danger will increase with the heat in July and August throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Fire prevention officials are encouraging property and livestock owners to be prepared for the worst while hoping for a cool summer.

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