Whitefish and our surrounding response areas are in the WUI (Wildland Urban Interface) with our homes built within the trees, on steep terrain, or hilltops to obtain that desirable view. Other areas of the City may feel they’re not in the WUI but are within a potential ember shower. All the homes in the Whitefish Fire response area are prone to wildland fires especially on hot, dry, windy days. We now face two fire seasons, the first is the pre green-up stage when the snow has melted but the grasses and other low to the ground vegetation are still dry and become fuel. Our second typical wildfire season comes after a hot dry summer. Unfortunately, this season has expanded into the fall months.
While most wildland fires are human caused, there is still a small percentage that are unavoidable. Human caused wildfires are usually easily accessible once discovered while fires caused by lightning can be in remote areas and go undetectable until they become established fires.
The Whitefish Fire Department provides “Initial Attack” and “Structure Protection” wildland firefighting within our response area working with Montana DNRC and the US Forest Service. Our goal is to extinguish a fire before it grows beyond the resources at our disposal. Our career staff and most of our volunteers hold NWCG (Nation Wildfire Coordinating Group) certifications as wildland firefighters and many have advanced certifications.
We need your help. Wildland fires put embers into the air that could land near or on your home and once a home is on fire it also puts embers into the air, and we get home to home ignition. Hardening your home against embers is the key.
For many of us our homes are already built so it is an expensive proposition to change to non-flammable construction materials and a Class A fire rated roof but there is a lot you can do to protect our home.
#1 Harden your home against embers
- Remove debris from gutters and the roof, sorry this is a never-ending task.
- Seal gaps between roof and the fascia plus the siding and foundation.
- Repair rotted windowsills especially where embers could land.
- Repair decks, consider replacing with noncombustible materials.
- Never store anything under your deck, make sure to remove debris.
- Never use lattice to block under deck, it prevents you from cleaning under the deck and will ignite easily.
- Cover vent openings with 1/8-inch wire screens.
- Keep your fireplace damper closed when not in use.
- Never pile firewood up against your home, deck, or fence
#2 Establish a non-ignition zone adjacent to your home, approximately 5-feet.
- Remove flammables from up against your home, especially below vinyl windows or eave and soffit vents.
- During high fire danger days remove flammables from your deck like seat cushions, baskets, dried flowers, welcome mats, and BBQ covers.
- Remove anything rear windows and sliding glass doors like flower boxes.
- Remove brooms, flammable decorations, and wood trellises near the home.
- Consider rock around the house instead of wood chips.
#3 Create a defensible space around your home, 30-feet or more on downhill slopes.
- Keep grass cut
- Remove dead vegetation.
- Remove lower tree branches up to 6 to 10 feet above the ground, but not more than a third of the height of the tree.
- Create separation from shrubs and trees.
- Open up the tree canopy
#4 Community / Neighborhood Planning
- Ensure proper street signs and home addresses are displayed
- Clear back vegetation along roadways, especially escape routes.
- Have alternative escape route should one be blocked.
- Form Firewise Communities.
- In non-hydrated areas consider providing firefighters with a water cistern.
- Invite the fire department to a community meeting to discuss wildfire safety.
#5 Family Wildfire Planning
- Build your list of what to take if you need to evacuate, post your list where whomever is home can use it.
- Make arrangements with neighbors to help each other if needed.
- Have a plan on where your family will meet, odds are not everybody will be at home. Cell service may be out. Consider a contact out of the area that all family members know to call.