Photo Credit: “The pressure was on to pull this off. Thoughts of national news headlines reading, ‘Training fire escapes, burns down houses; search continues for man responsible’ kept me up at night.” Photo by John F Marshall

What became the “Westridge Training Fire” began as two concerned neighbors asking for support in fuels reduction. The Westridge neighborhood is situated atop a ridge densely populated with sage and non-native grasses, and it faces prevailing winds that will take your hat off just about every day. Most of the houses along the ridge lie within 30 feet of a 20 percent (or greater) slope, have continuous fuels from the hillside to their structures, flammable siding, attached wooden fences, wooden decks, bark mulch, dead leaves, and of course arborvitae. There are even shake roofs crawling with dead vines.

Lanscape view of neighborhood and surrounding shrublands

The Westridge neighborhood and surrounding foothills. Wenatchee, Washington. Photo credit: John F Marshall

Manually removing the fuels from the slope was a barrier, and the opinion of community members was that a prescribed fire on the hillside would be much more efficient. When Chief Burnett of Chelan County Fire District 1 offered to burn the hillside as a training exercise, I gulped, and began to gather every forestry, fire, and natural resource expert I could get my hands on (thank you everyone). Together, we assessed the hillside and shared observations with the community through a panel discussion. Of the 33 households in the neighborhood, about eight people showed up, and the prevailing attitudes of non-participants were, “there has never been a fire here before,” and “it’s my neighbor’s problem, not mine.” Anyone reading this post likely has their hand on their forehead, like I did at the time. Continue reading…

Editor’s note: This blog, written by Jon Riley of Chelan County Fire District 1, was originally published on the Washington Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network blog; read the entire story.

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