Dozens attend Weiser Fire Department Open House

The rain let up and the sun came out just long enough for the Weiser Rural Fire District to hold a successful Open House on Saturday, May 28.
 Happy parents smiled as they watched excited children talk to firefighters, take pictures with the department’s canine mascot “Sparky,” and climb inside the district’s fire engines.
 Also on hand was the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service, and representatives of the Idaho and Oregon State Fire Marshal’s offices. 
 There was education on many of the usual fire prevention and safety topics such as smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms. This year’s Open House, however, was a joint effort to educate the public on the dangers of wildland fire season, which is here.
 “Historically, this Open House was held in October, during Fire Safety Week but we moved it to the spring to focus on the growing wildland fire problem,” said Weiser Rural Fire District Chief Tim Atwood. 
 Atwood said wildfire preparedness in Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) areas is a nationwide effort. 
 “WUI or Wildland Urban Interface are the areas created by our growing population expanding into rural areas surrounded by sage, grasses, and other vegetation,” Atwood explained.
 People are increasingly leaving cities for more natural surroundings, creating a need for education on how to protect homes if/when a fire sweeps through the area. 
 “Our main purpose today is talking about the Firewise program, which is about creating defensible space around people’s houses,” said BLM firefighter Kyle Mcquillin. “The Wildland Urban Interface is expanding. It used to be more around town, but a lot of people don’t want to be in town; they want to be out in nature and enjoy that beauty around their houses. It makes sense, but it’s not so beautiful when it burns.”
 Defensible space is the buffer created between a building on your property and wild grass, trees, shrubs, and other types of wildland that surrounds it. In southwest Idaho, it’s mainly sagebrush and some highly flammable species of wild grasses. The space can slow or stop the spread of wildfire, helping to protect your home from catching fire – either from embers, direct flame contact, or radiant heat.
 “Defensible space is the big takeaway when talking about Wildland Urban Interface,” said BLM firefighter Dustin Zahrt. “Clearing out 30 feet around your house of burnable material makes a difference. There is stuff on your property that is green, and you think that’s not going to burn, but there are species that have a higher oil content or volatility to them.”
 Although there are no plants that are fire-proof, Zahrt said there are many species that are naturally fire-resistant.
 “There are less oils and they hold more water so if the fire does come, you are better prepared; you have that defensible space with species that are better adapted to fire and don’t burn as easily,” he said. 
 The BLM offers a brochure that lists the more flammable species and their less flammable alternatives that will still make your property visually appealing. You can find it here: http://blm.gov/0hkd. The nearest BLM office is located at 1387 S. Vinnell Way in Boise.
 “You can still make your property look nice,” Mcquillin said. “A lot of times it’s not the big fires that burn up people’s houses. Let’s say an evacuation gets ordered and everybody clears out. An ember can land on some little juniper that you have planted next to your house and now that has started a little fire, which catches your beauty bark that is right next to your house, and 30 minutes later, your house catches fire. Meanwhile, firefighters are busy doing other things and you only have so many resources.”
 Zahrt and Mcquillin said that wildland fire not only threatens single houses on larger properties out in the sticks, but whole towns, citing the 2018 Paradise fire in northern California, which resulted in 85 deaths and the destruction of over 18,000 structures.
 The message is that all homeowners, regardless of where they live, should practice creating defensible space.
 “A lot of people are under the false assumption that because they live in town, fire can’t go through it, but when the wind starts blowing, fire can go through just about anything,” 
 

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