Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Wildfire Ready Neighbors Launches in Walla Walla

As temperatures across the globe continue to rise, there has been an unprecedented increase in wildfires. These warmer temperatures can lead to hot, dry conditions, making certain environmental landscapes more susceptible to the catching and spreading of these fires. 

Fires are necessary and integral parts of nature that serve various ecological purposes but when they are extreme, they can be destructive, causing mass damage. 

In the summer of 2023, the Oasis fire burned 4,252 acres in Walla Walla County, fortunately with no damage to any structures. As the threat of extreme fires increases, the community has started taking actionable steps towards wildfire preparedness. 

Walla Walla County Fire District No. 4 and the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have collaborated to provide Walla Walla residents with resources via Wildfire Ready Neighbors, which launched in Walla Walla this April. The launch was announced Wednesday, April 17, at the wildfire readiness event Igniting Action: Walla Walla Gets Prepared.

Walla Walla County Fire District No. 4 Fire Chief Rocky Eastman discussed the program’s implementation. 

“The program started in 2021, after the state legislature approved additional funding for the Washington State DNR, to not only control wildfires, but to prevent them. And so they were able to have funding to start this wildfire ready neighbors program. And the whole premise behind it is that homeowners can sign up to have a fire official come to your home, do an inspection of your home and property and give some suggestions as far as what they can do to enhance their property for defensible space and fire safety should a wildfire occur in the area,” Eastman said.

This program aims to raise awareness among homeowners about wildfire risks and offers them the opportunity to adopt mitigation measures or utilize available programs at no additional cost. Interested homeowners can sign up at the Wildfire Ready Neighbors website.

Eastman described the immediate actions that homeowners can take to enhance wildfire safety for their properties, such as ensuring that property addresses are visible and accessible, clearing driveways of overgrown vegetation and low-hanging branches for safe, clear access for emergency vehicles during a fire, maintaining a substantial distance between burnable materials and the home, keeping gutters and roof valleys clear of debris that could ignite and installing screens and vents to prevent embers from entering homes and igniting materials inside. 

Eastman continued describing the programs that are available to homeowners after an initial evaluation. 

“They have some programs for properties that are in the forest land areas to help with the thinning and forest health. We at Fire District Four, we also have a program that we do with the Department of Corrections. We have partnered with them to use some of their work crews to come out and do mitigation measures for defensible space, removing vegetation and stuff like that … So those are the two programs that actually can provide some assistance with the mitigation measures after you’ve had your evaluation done,” Eastman said. 

In 2022, junior Natalie Saunders gave a presentation on the history of wildfire management. She discussed the impacts events like Ignition Action can have on wildfire preparedness and public awareness.

“I think people definitely know about the wildfires in and around Walla Walla, but I feel like a lot of them really don’t know how to deal with it, they kind of see it as way over their heads, you know, ‘Oh, I’ll just let somebody else handle it like the wildland firefighters, they’ll just come to our rescue, we’ll just leave it to them.’ And I think, individuals can really help with this, like this program, I think is a really good step towards helping people realize how they can help themselves, protect their own properties from wildfire, and help better prepare themselves, rather than forcing the underpaid and underfunded wildland firefighters to come bail them out every time,” Saunders said. 

Saunders discussed how large wildfires are an opportunity for better management and developing tools for dealing with them. 

“I think there’s a really key silver lining to it. And that is that, yes, the fires that are happening now are really big, and they’re really bad. But, they were going to happen. And it was better that they happen sooner rather than later. Because if we just keep pushing them off, they’re going to get bigger and bigger. Like I said, it’s not a question of if they happen. It’s a question of when, and how big. And what’s great is that once a fire goes through an area, it’s not going to happen again for a really long time. And that, it’s kind of like ripping the band aid off, in a sense, you’re clearing the slate, you’re clearing all that built up fuel. So now the ecosystem that regrows and replaces it, we can now better manage, we can do prescribed burns, we can do better thinning,” Saunders said. 

Walla Walla Conservation District conservation scientist Annie Byerley discussed how community based events such as Ignition Action help with the conservation district’s mission of conserving natural resources. 

“DNR is a very big name, pretty much everybody within the state should at least have an idea of what DNR does, and to be able to have that [conservation district]  attached to it is hopefully very beneficial. There’s a lot of new residents that have come to the valley, Walla Walla keeps growing, and [we are] able to be a resource for those new individuals that have come to town. A lot of the people that we have relationships with are like that fourth generation agricultural producer. So it’s just been a lineage of those relationships. And so to be able to open that door to new relationships with people, with landowners, and then addressing a multitude of resource concerns outside of just that [agricultural] piece … we do have opportunities to open it up to something more than just agriculture producers and those natural resource concerns,” Byerley said.

Byerley continued discussing other projects that the conservation district does in relation to other natural resources. 

“For other natural resources, I mean, I couldn’t even tell you how many riparian projects, like stream plantings, we have in the works right now. We have two instream projects, so that would include large woody debris, which would increase fish habitat and water quality. We have two of those big projects going into construction this summer. We’ve partnered with our federal agency, which is the Natural Resources Conservation Service. We’re helping them fund the installation of a new bridge on the Coppei Creek,” Byerley said.

The wildfire readiness event in Walla Walla represents an opportunity for the community to come together and strengthen its defenses against the ever-present threat of wildfires. With the collaboration of Walla Walla County Fire District No. 4, the Washington Department of Natural Resources and the Walla Walla County Conservation District, residents have a chance to engage with experts, access resources and develop action plans through the Wildfire Ready Neighbors program. 

With a greater understanding of wildfire management and conservation, this event provides an opportunity for preparedness for any wildfire-related challenges that may come about in the future. 

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