April weather in Pierce County can be wild! It clearly lives up to the old adage, “if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes and it will change.” Last Saturday, we saw blustery winds, hail, drenching rain, sunshine, and cold temperatures alternating throughout the day! I was in Wilkeson, but my thoughts were with those participating in the Daffodil Parade!
Why was I up in Wilkeson? I was invited to speak at an event hosted by the Pierce Conservation District, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), our Department of Emergency Management (DEM), the Buckley Fire Department, East Pierce Fire & Rescue, Orting Fire & Rescue, the US Forest Service, the US Geological Survey (USGS), the WSU Master Gardeners, the Friends of the Carbon River Canyon, and the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. More importantly for the young residents who showed up, Smokey Bear and Sparky the Fire Dog were also there!
All these agencies came together on a wet 34-degree April morning at Wilkeson Elementary School to help our communities plan and prepare for the summer wildfire season.
This coming September, it will be six years since I had my introduction to wildfires as the Pierce County Executive. I vividly recall sitting in on a Federal Incident Management Team meeting at the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort with then Buckley Fire Chief Alan Predmore.
A fire in Eastern Washington had unexpectedly swept over the Pacific Crest Trail, threatening the ski area and many of the cabins off State Route (SR) 410. I am so thankful to the Crystal Mountain, Greenwater and Buckley firefighters for protecting those communities from the Norse Peak Fire.
Almost three years to the day later, in 2020, I was in the Pierce County Sheriff’s plane at 10 a.m. surveying the Sumner Grade Fire.
At that time, the fire looked somewhat contained, especially by the four-lanes of SR 410. But the afternoon winds increased dramatically, and the fire jumped the highway threatening many homes and ultimately destroying two. Again, I was very appreciative of the leadership of then East Pierce Fire Chief Bud Backer and firefighters from throughout the region. It could have been much worse.
While the Norse Peak Fire was up in the forested mountains, far from much of our population, the Sumner Grade fire was burning a wooded hillside bounded by suburban homes. Many of us, including me, love that our houses have trees in our yards and may be adjacent to a greenbelt. But increasingly, those greenbelts and even our yard landscaping can become fuel during a long, hot dry summer.
Now is the time to plan and prepare for a potential fire hitting your neighborhood. There are some commonsense actions we can take to reduce the risk to our houses and our communities.
Just ask the residents of Wilkeson. Their community was faced with a very serious fire in 2018 that could have damaged much of the historic town. But they have learned from it and have widely adopted the “Firewise” principles. Learn more at firewise.org.
I am not a trained firefighter. But the Firewise logo reminds me that I can do a lot to help our local firefighters if the worst comes to my neighborhood. But the best thing I can do to help is with yard tools today and take action before a fire starts.
So, this Spring, I will be hoping for a nice but not too dry summer so we can enjoy the outdoors. But I will also cut back tree branches and trim the rhododendrons around my home.
Thanks for reading,