During this warm and windy spring, Nebraska is experiencing a taste of what the western part of the United States has for the past several years—increasing wildfire activity. Recent fires near towns like North Platte, Lodgepole and others showed that wildland fire can, and will, impact our communities.
“We can be thankful for the quick response by firefighters from across the region, as well as local residents, in making sure we did not lose any lives or structures during these fires,” noted Mark Frickel, Wildland Urban Interface Forester with the Nebraska Forest Service in North Platte.
The increasing number of homes built in the wildland and forested landscape means that wildfire response by local resources is becoming more complex, with additional factors such as grassland and forest vegetation contributing to the behavior of the fire. “We as homeowners and as communities need to do our part to decrease the chance of losing homes to wildfire and to create a safe place for firefighters to fight fires,” explained Frickel. Unfortunately, many firefighters throughout the nation have lost their lives while protecting structures because they feel it is their duty to do so, in spite of the risks they face.
May 2 is Wildfire Preparedness Day and as homeowners, there is a responsibility to make landscaping decisions which can help both you and those who respond to wildfire incidents, many of whom are volunteers, in the event of a wildfire. Even with the current stay-at-home orders, property owners can reduce the potential impact of a wildfire by keeping lawns mowed and well-watered, keeping leaves and needles out of gutters and off decks and porches, and pruning tree branches, such as pines and cedars, that are too close to the house. These practices can help to reduce the risk of homes igniting during events like the Hillcrest Fire in North Platte. “We even saw some Hillcrest property owners that kept their homes in good condition prior to the fire, which helped the firefighters, too,” said Frickel.
The Nebraska Forest Service wants to help your neighborhood become FirewiseTM. Taking care of your property can really make a difference in saving your home. Preparing neighborhoods to withstand a wildfire requires a community approach, as one individual cannot do it alone. The agency staff are available to assist with homeowner, neighborhood, and community preparedness planning. The Nebraska Forest Service also offers cost-share funding assistance to property owners to manage trees and forests surrounding homes and communities.
Seeing the headlines about fires in California and Colorado comes close to home when there are fires close by this spring as well as many other fires in the state, all are exposed to the same risk. Remember, taking care of your home and property is as important for the first responders as it is for you.
For further information about Wildfire Preparedness Day and the Firewise program, contact Mark Frickel, Nebraska Forest Service’s Wildland Urban Interface Forester, 308-249-6763, your local fire department or visit firewise.org.