Conservation organization helps communities tucked into forests gauge wildfire risk

As the wildfire danger grows along the western foothills of the Cascade Mountains, homeowners who used to find refuge in the forest wonder if their front yard is now full of kindling. 

Now, a program launched in 2019 by the King Conservation District aims to educate homeowners and guide them to learn how to see the forest through the trees.  

Entering the green and vibrant forests of communities like Mirrormont feels like the city has been left behind. But, the evergreen forests are no longer as evergreen as people might recall from only a few years ago. 

Conservationists say the forest floor is covered in what is now fuel for wildfire and it has never been as dry as it is today.

"This is what starts your fires," said KCD employee Matthew Axe after he grabbed and squeezed a handful of very dry debris from one Mirrormont community member’s front yard. 

RELATED: Lighting-sparked fires prompt mandatory evacuations near Colville Indian Reservation

"This is more of a 100-hour fuel," he continued.

Axe’s specialty includes working for King Conservation District running a program that helps homeowners mitigate the wildfire risk to homes and properties.

"I love trees," declared homeowner Linda Shepherd. 

The Mirrormont community and the trees attracted Shepherd to move into the area a few years ago. But, she said her plants have been struggling after prolonged hot and dry weather.

Shepherd is one of multiple homeowners in the community who took advantage of the program. The educational outreach offers homeowners suggestions that expand defensible space around structures and methods to reduce the chances of smoldering ember landing in an area that could cause catastrophic damage.

The district produces a report which they share with homeowners free of charge. In a time where wildfire danger is expanding in areas not used to such risks, Axe says education is what homeowners need to ensure their properties are protected as best possible. 

"We are still a wet ecosystem," said Axe, "Yet fire is becoming more of a concern. To be prepared, you need to start managing for it."

RELATED:  Number of US wildfires so far in 2021 largest in a decade, fire center data says

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