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Desert Aire hosts fire preparedness informational event

by GABRIEL DAVIS
Staff Writer | May 14, 2024 2:01 AM

DESERT AIRE — Representatives from the Desert Aire Owners Association, the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Grant County PUD, as well as Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, and community members from Desert Aire met Wednesday for a fire readiness informational event at the DAOA building.

Jake Hardt, a community resilience coordinator with the DNR for Chelan, Douglas, Adams and Grant Counties, led the informational portion of the event, which focused on two programs the DAOA and Grant County Fire District 8 are looking to implement in Desert Aire.

“The Wildfire Ready Neighbors program is active in at least 12 counties across the state, and I'm moving it into areas where communities express interest,” Hardt said. “So the Sunland Estates and Desert Aire communities have expressed interest in the Firewise USA program, which is an overall community preparedness program, and part of the Firewise USA program is the community has to develop an action plan. Usually within those action plans is some sort of home assessment program, and Wildfire Ready Neighbors pairs well with Firewise USA.”

The Wildfire Ready Neighbors home consultation is completely free, Hardt said, and Desert Aire residents can sign up online.

“I built relationships with the local fire districts and got them some (National Fire Protection Association) Assessing Structure Ignition Potential training so that they can come out and engage in your communities and do home assessments in your communities,” Hardt said.

The NFPA runs the Firewise USA program, which is co-sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Association of State Foresters. Hardt said he manages the Firewise USA program for Washington state, including channeling legislative funding to micro-grants that help communities implement wildfire protection, such as the Wildfire Ready Neighors program.

“That program is focused on community members getting educated so they can take action on their own property and … not if, but when the bad day comes, help us firefighters be more successful at protecting your communities and your structures by doing those things around your home that really matter,” he said.

Hardt elaborated on the goal for the various readiness programs.

“We're trying to get people to focus on their own property and five feet around their home to reduce ember ignitions and create ember ignition resistance and that's going to equal less structures lost in wildfire events,” he said. “The best thing is a non-combustible five-foot perimeter around structures.”

According to Hardt, most structures lost in wildfires are ignited by embers, not direct contact with the main fire. He said an ember could travel around two miles in the environment around Desert Aire.

“All it takes is for one structure in the community to get ignited,” he said. “Granted, you do have a whole lot of firefighting resources right in your backyard, but a couple structure fires in one community started by embers is super hard for any fire district to manage, especially if it's a busy, windy day in the summer, so your part matters.”

The Wildfire Ready Neighbors program also encourages residents to spread awareness of home assessments and to work with neighbors and other community members to reduce wildfire risk.

“The tactic I take, especially in a community that's new to their wildfire preparedness journey, is to focus on what you can control,” he said. “In some cases, there may be a neighbor's own vegetation that is within five feet of your home, and the way that I address that is I point it out on the assessment and it's up to the community to work together towards those common goals.”

Dent also spoke to the event attendees.

“A range fire like (we have) here can come so quickly it's almost impossible to stop, to get ahead of it, unless you're really ready. So the best way to handle it is Firewise. Really, that's the best way, because then you're ahead of it. This is the third Firewise event I've been to in the last two or three years,” Dent said. “I just encourage you to try to follow some of these guidelines and maybe we can prevent catastrophe because that’s what it turns out to be.”

Hardt said Grant County residents outside of Desert Aire can sign up for a home assessment, but it will likely take longer to schedule without a local fire district or department’s support. 

“I just appreciate the Safety and Security's committee of the (DAOA) taking this seriously and (starting) multiple programs at the same time,” Hardt said.

For more information or to sign up for the Wildfire Ready Neighbors program to get a free plan and to schedule a home visit, go to wildfireready.dnr.wa.gov.

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com.

    Desert Aire community members listen to Washington Department of Natural Resources Community Resilience Coordinator Jake Hardt prior to asking questions regarding wildfire protection in Desert Aire Wednesday afternoon.
 
 
    Desert Aire residents Kathryn Apolito, left, and Susie Miller, right, sign up for home visits Wednesday as part of the Washington Department of Natural Resources’ Wildfire Ready Neighbors program.
 
 
    Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, also attended the fire readiness informational event Wednesday at the Desert Aire Owners Association building and commented on the importance of readiness programs for preventing the loss of homes to wildfires.