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Is your home safe?

NOXON – It has taken seven years to figure out how best to provide health care to the residents of western Sanders County, but this time the Clark Fork Valley Hospital (CFVH) may have hit on the perfect solution. The Bull River Clinic opened its doors two weeks ago, the culmination of a great deal of work from hospital staff and volunteers and a remarkable commitment from members of the communities it now serves.

Bud and Diane Mosley’s normally tidy yard was overgrown this summer with 6-inch high brush. Why? According to Bud, the PTO on the tractor went out, disabling its mower.  And the family’s primary weed-whacker, Clyde the horse, was incapacitated. Apparently Clyde’s over-indulgence in early summer grass caused him to founder. Clyde’s founder afflicted him with painfully swollen ankles. It also put him out-of-service for the summer as both lawn maintenance equipment and recreational vehicle.

    Larry Linker, President of the Sanders County Association of Fire Fighters, arrived at the Mosley’s Heron home to conduct a fire safety evaluation. He immediately encountered the overgrown yard. He also quickly discovered Clyde’s hooves gaily wrapped in duct tape booties. The booties will help cushion Clyde’s weight. The festive-looking booties, an anti-inflammatory, and a strict weight-loss diet should help Clyde assume his normal activities next summer. He is a valuable member of the Mosley home fire safety team.

    Excluding the overgrown yard and a few common problems listed below, the Mosley home easily passed the fire inspection evaluation. According to Larry Linker, most of the homeowners requesting the Firewise home safety evaluation pass the test. The problem homes, which endanger the forest and the rest of the community, rarely volunteer for the inspection.

    The Mosleys volunteered to participate in the Firewise home inspection program. (They also bravely agreed to let me monitor their inspection for publication in The River Journal). The evaluation is free and offered to residents of Northwest Montana. The program is administered by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. It works hand-in-hand with the Forest Service and each community’s fire department.

    Firewise assists homeowners living in the wildland urban interface area. Many homes bordering on the forest are destroyed by wildland fires each year. Often, these homes could have survived had the owners taken preventative action beforehand. Voluntary participation in the Firewise home inspection program can help identify and correct conditions that would otherwise allow your home to be used as fuel in a wildfire.

    Firewise landscaping can create a line of defense against the threat of wildfire by creating a safety zone around the home.  It advises homeowners to avoid the use of native or ornamental plants that are highly flammable.  These include shrubs such as juniper and sage brush which contain highly combustible resins. Another common fire hazard, found at the Mosley home, is the use of decorative bark and highly flammable landscaping groundcover used to stunt the growth of weeds.  Bark is a terrific fire fuel- do you really want it in the flowerbeds next to your house?

    The Mosleys correctly have their firewood contained in a structure suitably distant from their home. Many people conveniently stack the wood for their fireplace underneath their home’s deck. They need to ask themselves, “How quickly can I move this potential bonfire with a fast-moving inferno heading towards my property?” Additionally, have they supplied “lighter fluid” in the form of a propane tank next to their home or woodpile? The Mosley’s propane supply is contained in a lonely tank, away from trees and structures.

    The Mosley home is built in a cleared meadow. No trees dangle their branches onto the Mosely’s roof. Their gutters are free of highly flammable dead leaves, pine needles, and debris. And their roof is made out of metal, instead of the highly flammable wood shingles fires so dearly love. Additionally, Linker was pleasantly surprised to see that the Mosleys possess one of the only fireplaces he’s found in Heron with a correctly functioning spark arrester.

    The Mosleys have done a good job of thinning the trees surrounding their meadow home. If you’re going to thin in an area with a variety of trees, you may want to remove the more flammable varieties.  According to Richard Peterson of the Forest Service (Trout Creek station), take out lodgepole and douglas fir; leave ponderosa pine, because it’s a hardier variety of tree. And if a fire goes through, the ponderosa pine has a thicker bark, enabling it to better survive a forest fire. Additionally, you may want to plant sugar maple trees for a less-flammable, non-native ornamental variety of tree – they do well here.

    The Mosleys have cut the lower branches of trees that are dead. Low hanging, dead branches can help a ground fire leap into the canopies of trees. This makes it a much harder fire to fight. 

    And speaking of fighting a fire, will the Fire Department be able to locate and drive up your driveway? Will a fire truck be able to turn around on your property? Will you have a water source for them to use? The Mosleys are covered on all these points. They possess a well and a generator to power it in the event a forest fire burns up the power poles transporting  electricity. And they have secured permission from their neighbor to use the water in his pond during a fire emergency.

    The Mosleys have done a good job protecting their home from a wild fire. hopefully, Clyde will overcome his founder (and suppress the gluttonous-appetite that caused it) so as to again help Diane and Bud with home and fire maintenance next year. Fire prevention is not a one-time task. Similar to weight-control, it’s an ongoing project (are you listening, Clyde?)

    For more information about the Firewise program, call the DNRC at 406-826-3701, or access the website. Larry Linker can be reached by email at linker(at)blackfoot.net.

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Nancy Lynn Masten

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