New tool assesses wildfire risk for Inland Northwest homes

SPOKANE, Wash. — With wildfire season approaching, its important to be prepared for what firefighters predict will be another busy year.

The Inland Northwest is desirable, but for those living in the beautiful woods, it comes with risks.

“Ninety-percent of the people who call us, we’re kind of the country brokers, they call wanting a house in the woods, they want to live in the woods,” saidJim Palmer, a broker and owner of Real Estate Marketplace.

Living in nature means there’s a lot to look out for sometimes, especially when drier weather rolls around. Stevens County homeowner Jared Attridge found this out the hard way with the Corkscrew fire last summer. He’s lived in North Spokane County for most of his life.

“It seemed to never really touch our area, but then after last summer, when it got so close to us, it was actually kind scary,” Attridge said. “Being woken up in the middle of the night to just leave. Kind of set us in motion to be more careful with it, now that we know it’s an actual threat to us.”

To keep his family safe, he knew he needed to clean up some of the trees around his home.

“Around us, we have this buffer, but we definitely were still nervous because with wildfires, anything can happen, even if it’s thinned,” Attridge said. “Winds could shift and our house could be in danger, so it was very scary.”

The risk of wildfires is only growing in the Inland Northwest. Now, there’s a new tool called “Risk Factor” that can help assess wildfire risks for homes. “Risk Factor” allows homeowners to see exactly what their risk is at their home.

The new tool shows where a wildfire risk sits at any moment, even 30 years from now, and it shows that the risk grows with time.

Palmer said homeowners should think about wildfire risks all the time, not just in the summer.

“In August, we start to think about that because it’s hot and dry, but you have to think way ahead of that curve and do the thinning, and it takes a lot of time to do that,” Palmer said.

Risk factors are now listed on realtor websites as well, including Realtor.com and Redfin.com. Specific listings will have what that risk is on a scale of 1 to 10 and minimal to extreme risks.

“It’s a great tool to look at for safety,” said Captain Brad Martin of Spokane County Fire District 4. “I think if I was a customer looking at a piece of property, I’d look very closely at how ready am I for a wildfire, for the risk of it.”

The First Street Foundation created Risk Factor by combining information about different fire fuels, weather, and historical wildfires to estimate future risks. Firefighters say tools like this can help educate the public and mitigate wildfires.

“When homeowners take appropriate action and take those steps and making their property more fire-resistant, it greatly affects our duties as firefighters,” said Spokane County Fire District 4 Fire Marshal Jared Harms.

Although there is that tool, you can further help protect your home from wildfires. Firefighters can give you a personalized, on-the-ground assessment to figure out what you can do to keep your home safe from going up in flames.

Harms said there are three zones to a home: immediate, intermediate and extended zone.

The immediate zone is zero to five feet from a home, where there shouldn’t be any flammable materials or things that can catch an ember.

“A lot of times we see homeowners that have bark and landscaping materials right up to the edge of the home,” Harms said. “Those are areas where embers can catch and ignite a fire.”

The intermediate zone is five feet to 30 feet from a home. Martin says there should not be too many trees in these areas, because if one were to catch fire, it could quickly spread and go up into the trees.

In the extended zone, which would be 30 feet to 100 feet from a home, homeowners should clean up dead plants and trees to reduce the fuel that could be caught in a fire.

“We’re really excited about cleaning it up, just cause we know, one, it’s safer and we know it’s going to look better for us,” Attridge added.

For more information on how to get an on-the-ground assessment from firefighters, homeowners can call their local fire districts or check out the Wildfire Ready Neighbor with the Department of Natural Lands program here.

READ: Washington firefighters use prescribed burn to prepare for wildfire season

READ: ‘Everyone must take action’: Wildfire Ready Neighbors program kicks off in Spokane County