The hot temperatures and dry weather we have experienced this August remind us that we are well into summertime here in the Pacific Northwest. With those conditions also comes the threat of wildfire. Just this week, we are experiencing EXTREME fire danger. This means that fires can rapidly spread and potentially become large. And, with the unfolding tragedy of the wildfire on Maui, we need to be reminded that there is an inherent risk in living in such a beautiful place. Although the natural wildfire cycle here can spread well over 100 years, alterations to the natural landscape and human activities mean we are more prone to wildfire than ever. The entire island is considered to be in a wildland urban interface area. This means homes and businesses meet or are intermingled with the natural environment. This also creates challenges when a fire does occur.
We have been working diligently at BIFD for over a decade on the wildfire risks that exist here. In 2010, we published the first Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) for Bainbridge Island. This was the cornerstone for all of the efforts and improvements we have made since. Despite advances in staffing, equipping, and training our personnel to fight wildfires, the Fire Department alone cannot prevent all wildfires on the island from potentially doing harm. Prevention and preparedness require everyone to do their part to improve outcomes.
BIFD continues to work with the City to allow defensible space to be created around homes and businesses in a way that retains habitat. Property owners can now begin these efforts in the most critical areas around structures using the Firewise program as our guide. In addition to defensible space through vegetation management, there are many actions that can be taken to make your home or business more resilient if a fire occurs, such as cleaning gutters, keeping firewood piles away from the walls and decks, using metal screens over vents and bird blocking, and putting patio furniture cushions inside when not in use.
BIFD and the City have created and continue to improve the island’s evacuation plan. Mass evacuation of the island on short notice will be extremely difficult, even in the best conditions. Please study the plan and consider what you must have ready if you are asked to evacuate. Do you have a ‘Go’ bag? Are you familiar with the routes of evacuation from your home or business? Do you know what the different evacuation levels mean (Ready, Set, Go) and what you should do if you are given an evacuation notice?
Finally, please be sure you have subscribed to Nixle if you have a cellular phone (text ‘98110’ to ‘888777’). This will allow you to receive emergency notices from the City in an emergency. Also, be sure your cell phone is set to receive ‘emergency alerts’. This function can be found in ‘settings’ and then ‘notifications’. This allows you to receive alerts from the Washington Emergency Management Division for major emergencies in your immediate area. If an evacuation is required, the Department and City plan to use multiple means to make notifications, including via phone, radio, TV, and door-to-door when we are able. And, just as we continue to work on improving our evacuation plan, we continue to work on better ways to make notifications in an emergency situation as well.
There are many resources that specifically address wildfire and preparedness on Bainbridge Island. You can find them at www.bifd.org/fire-safety; www.bainbridgewa.gov/1163/Wildfire-Response; and www.bainbridgeprepares.org.
Please remember that until further notice, we are in a Stage 2 burn ban. Visit here to learn about Bainbridge Island outdoor burning regulations during a burn ban or any other time of the year.
I hope you have a fun and safe remainder of our beautiful PNW summer!
Jared Moravec, Fire Chief
Photo courtesy of Steve Baer,