Fire workshop hopes to put damper on wildfires |

Fire workshop hopes to put damper on wildfires

Frank Fisher, of the Record staff

Waiting until a wildfire is approaching your home is not the best time to plan strategies to save their homes, likely their largest investments.

The Utah Living with Fire Coalition is sponsoring "Make your Space: Workshops for Wildland Urban Interface Landowners," preparing homeowners so they can take preventive action before fire strikes.

Utah has been shaken by eight major wildfires this summer, fueled by scorching heat and dry vegetation. The Neola wildfire took the lives of three residents trying to defend a home from oncoming flames. Utah has been on high alert with more than a month of summer remaining.

"Park City has the perfect resident to be attending," said Kathy Hammons, the residence hazard assessment director of ULWF. "This will be wonderful if you live in a wildland urban interface that encroaches on a forest."

The one-day workshop will be held Saturday, Aug. 11, in Salt Lake City.

The conference is designed to inform attendees not only what they can do to make their homes safer, but also, how they can organize their neighborhoods, coordinating efforts to make the neighborhoods more fire safe.

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Hammons said there are many factors to consider in a neighborhood. There may be limited water sources. "If someone thinks they’re going to fight the fire with a garden hose or with sprinklers on a roof, maybe they should rethink." She said, with limited water, homeowners may be taking water away from firefighters. The more information a neighborhood has about its resources, the better prepared it may become.

Hammons said homeowners can be put in contact with hazard-assessment officials who can evaluate their homes and make suggestions.

Homeowners, fire officials, government-agency employees, planners, contractors and builders, landscape designers emergency planners and business owners may benefit from the seminar, Celsey Short of ULWF said.

Ideally, that planning would begin by locating a community not on a hillside surrounded by flammable wild lands. Homes would be built with fire-resistant materials and landscaping would incorporate fire-resistant plantings.

Such communities, known as "shelter-in-place communities," are actually the safest place to be, said Pat Durland, who owns a fire-consulting firm, Stone Creek Fire, and who will be speaking at the workshop.

But Durland has good news for those who don’t live in a fire-safe community. He said fire science has changed and even homes with heavy vegetation can be made far safer without drastic cutting and pruning. "It’s the little things that count in saving your home," he said.

"People have to understand they can make a difference. It’s not a big deal," he said.

Durland tells a story of a co-worker who was pulling his truck up to assess the fire hazard of an elderly woman’s property. She said, "If you are going to tell me this tree has to go, you might as well get back into your truck and go."

"We can find a way to keep the pine tree grandpa planted next to the house," Durland said. "We used to scare people. Now we tell them they have options."

Durland shared a few tips from information he will cover in detail. He said trees near a home may not be dangerous, depending on the type of tree and how flammable materials near the base of the tree are.

Recent research shows that trees can be 10-30 feet from a house, but the type of tree is important. . A deciduous tree, full of moisture, may actually shield a home from heat, he said. Even overhang limbs from such trees may help shield a home.

"Limbs over a house don’t get me excited, Durland said. "What gets me excited is dry shrubs around a pine tree. Then the tree will go up like a torch. But there are things you can do even with a pine tree, such as trimming its lower branches."

He also recommends little things like moving woodpiles away from homes so firefighters don’t have to do it. Chair cushions can catch fire from embers, then igniting decking.

"Wildfire fighting techniques are 100 years behind structural fire techniques," he said. Structures are actually very safe with modern building codes."

"We’ve been counting the wrong things," Durland said. "We’ve been counting the number of homes threatened when the real issue is the damage to the ecosystem."

He said if people better prepare for wildfires, "firemen won’t have to act as traffic cops helping evacuate people, and they can devote more attention for saving the eco-systems instead of focusing most of their energies of saving homes.

Hammons summed up what the workshop is all about.

"Ultimately, it’s the independent property owner who takes responsibility for his home. What we’re finding is the better educated a homeowner the better chance the homeowner has."

Living with Fire, a non-profit organization, has been serving Utah for 10 years.

The 2007 Wildland Urban Interface Northern Utah Workshop will be held, Saturday, Aug. 11, at the University Guesthouse, 110 S. Fort Douglas Blvd., Building 365, in Salt Lake City. The workshop lasts from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Cost is $15, which includes a continental breakfast and lunch.

Register online at . Registration at the event will be from 8 to 8:45 a.m. in the lobby.