Betty Kaiser’s Chatter Box: Fire follows fuel — reduce wildfire risk now

Last month, the London Grange hosted a presentation on preparing our homes and properties for summer’s upcoming wildfire conditions. It was followed by a pulled pork sandwich meal and scrumptious desserts — so you know I just had to go.

Speaker Justin Patten from the Oregon Dept of Forestry was introduced to the group by Grange President Alice Nowicki. For an hour, Patten shared some helpful firewise information for those of us who live in wooded areas.

Until a couple of years ago, the possibility of a forest fire in our area had never entered our minds. We love living in the forested area across from Cottage Grove Lake, where wildlife roam and silence is golden. We were oblivious to the fact that there were no fire hydrants or an escape route around the lake in case of fire.

Previously, we had lived in cities where there were no wildfire worries. We grew up in Los Angeles in an era of vacant lots and citrus groves. Large, out-of-control fires were practically unheard of and, if perchance one broke out, there was a firehouse nearby.

Later, we lived in Ventura, Calif. Again, fire was not a big worry. Fire hydrants were on every block and the kids were drilled at school to come home and teach their parents to put up fire alarms and agree on meeting places in emergencies.

Nothing about wildfires.

The last couple of summers, it seemed that the whole West Coast was on fire. This year’s Snowmageddon really got our attention. Dangerously dry, huge debris piles are everywhere and we all need to take action. Suddenly, wildfires are possible in our own backyard.

Our daughter Kathy, her husband, their two sons and daughter-in-law live in East Ventura. Tim is a 30-year veteran of the Oxnard Fire Dept. and he was on duty the night that the largest fire in the state’s history broke out — just a few short miles from their home. The Thomas Fire ultimately burned 282,000 acres and was fought by an army of 8,000 firefighters.

Thomas started in Santa Paula’s Steckel Park, south of Aquinas College. It soon spread west along the foothills powered by the dreaded Santa Ana winds.

It quickly reached the city of Ventura where it destroyed neighborhoods in the hills above City Hall. The fire kept going and didn’t stop for weeks, until it reached Santa Barbara; lives were lost and properties destroyed.

That fire and others caused us to look around and plan how we could lower our own fire danger. We have a sprinkler system, have knocked down our tall weeds, keep our perimeters mowed, have taken junk to the dump and removed flammable debris.

But it takes the cooperation of everyone in the neighborhood to also keep their properties cleaned up.

Lightning strikes are beyond our control.

Justin Patten at his Grange talk pointed out these important reminders:

1) The leading cause of human-caused wildfires in Oregon is escaped debris from backyard burning:

• Check the weather forecast and call your local fire agency before burning.

• Clear a 10-ft radius around your burn pile.

• Burn yard debris only and always stay by your burn pile with tools on site

• Make sure your burn pile is completely out when you leave.

2) Equipment fires are the second leading cause of wildfires on state-protected lands in Oregon. Spring is the time to clean up excess vegetation, not summer.

Use the right tool for the job:

• Call first to find out if equipment use is restricted.

• Use gas-powered equipment early in the day.

• Use a weed trimmer with plastic line.

• Be sure your tools are in good working order.

• Keep a fire extinguisher or water hose nearby.

3) Create a defensible space around your home free of combustible material: Fire follows fuel:

• Clean up dead or dying plans, branches, leaves and needles everywhere — decks too!

• Move wood pile 30 feet from the home.

• Remove flammable plants and replace with fire-resistant species.

• Prune tree branches to a height of 6-10 ft to remove ladder fuels.

• Cut grass to less than 4 inches.

• Keep shrubs low and away from the drip line of house foundations and trees.

• Maintain driveway clearance that is free of flammable debris to allow fire engine access.

• More information at or home.

Now we are praying for an uneventful summer. But just in case… I would appreciate it if someone would tell us an emergency escape route to London Road and the freeway.

Contact Betty Kaiser’s

Chatterbox at 942-1317 or email [email protected]