Various emergency responder agencies met with a small number of concerned citizens last week as foresters and responders presented the FIREWISE West Virginia Program. The meeting was held in the Pendleton County Board of Education meeting room.
Firewise WV focuses on creating safe access and defensible space for homes and other structures when they are adjacent to woodlands that present high fire danger.
The large April wildfire near Franklin brought these concerns to the forefront. Authorities reported that one structure burned to the ground and several others were saved due to the heroic efforts of firefighters.
Rick Gillespie, Pendleton County Emergency Services coordinator, advised that the folks presenting worthwhile information during the meeting were welcoming remarks made by Bruce Minor, Emergency Management director, Rosey Santerre, assistant regional forester with the West Virginia Division of Forestry, Mike Alt, Upper Tract Volunteer Fire Department chief, and Diana Mitchell, Pendleton 911 director.
All of the speakers amplified the hazards, ways to mitigate the hazards and why it is so important for landowners to create clear zones around their property and to have green space comprised of healthy, short grass around structures as a buffer. Shrubs and trees should not be allowed to grow up against houses and consideration should be given to the types of construction materials used, especially for roofs and siding.
Dead leaves, pine needles, tree branches and other combustible materials should be removed. Firewood should not be stored on/under porches or decks. Machinery, ATVs and lawn mowers need to be parked away from the home as well.
Use fire-resistant plants around one’s home, including flowering dogwoods, azaleas and more.
During the meeting, Santerre explained the science of wildfires and how they progress and where homes are more vulnerable.
Alt shared photographs depicting instances of poor access. All involved emphasized that fire trucks cannot gain access to homes that have poor roads leading to them. Inhibitors are water breaks that are too deep and too severe, weak and deteriorating bridges, low hanging trees/limbs and brush that can hide road name signs and cause damage to equipment attached to fire trucks, etc. In some instances, fire departments may be forced to abandon efforts if they cannot get their equipment to the scene. Citizens can help themselves by having reasonable access roads, or be willing to accept the risks and possible losses if they fail to construct adequate access for emergency services entities. This can apply to ambulances being unable to access areas as well during medical emergencies.
Mitchell explained the importance of addresses, displaying those addresses and how important they are in allowing emergency responders to find the scene of a wildfire or any other emergency.
Gillespie closed by emphasizing the importance of the presentation and actions of landowners. He encouraged those in attendance to share the information with friends and neighbors.