Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
SANDY — Wildfires are a big risk for people living near canyons and mountains. There are, however, steps residents can take to make it more likely their homes and neighborhoods will avoid the devastation a fire can cause.
Sandy and Draper fire departments, Unified Fire Authority and the Sandy Park Police held a community event on Saturday morning at Hidden Valley Park, which is smack-dab between woodlands and urban areas. They taught people how to defend their homes and prepare for the upcoming wildfire season.
"With the drought conditions worsening, it's top-of-mind for our residents, how to prepare for and defend their residence, especially along the foothills and along Dimple Dell Park," Sandy Mayor Monica Zoltanski said.
She said the city has a lot of urban woodland interface area, so education opportunities are important.
Matt Stuebner, battalion chief with Sandy Fire Department, said people can create a defensible area around their homes by removing tree limbs lower than 10 feet to prevent ground fires from spreading, ensure plants near the home are fire-resistant and keep debris like pine needles, leaves and dead plants off the roof and ground.
Stuebner said that a common way for fire to spread into the home is through small openings, he suggested placing mesh over openings, like vents and eaves, to keep embers out.
In addition, he said there are a lot of things people can do to help their homes survive a fire, particularly, the Ready, Set, Go program, which firefighters helped to promote at Saturday's event.
"Ready" encourages people to take steps now, including protecting the property and gathering important documents and supplies. "Set" refers to making a home ready when there is a fire in the area, but not yet under evacuation orders, which includes taking down drapes and clearing any recent leaves and needles. And "go" encourages people to leave early and have a plan.
"That's what our goal is, firewise communities," Stuebner said.
He said when homes are close to brush and woodlands there is a lot of fuel for a fire, meaning homes are at a higher risk. Stuebner said Dimple Dell Park, which stretches into the community, means more of Sandy is part of the woodland-urban interface where homes are more likely to be in the line of a fire.
He said fire departments offer home inspections, where they give advice about steps to take to make a home more safe. Many residents were encouraged to sign up for the help ahead of the current fire season.
"Setting up for the future, hoping that it never happens. Just like an insurance plan — you get it, you hope you don't have to use it. It's all about just knowing how to make sure your home is prepared," Stuebner said.
The fire department keeps track of the houses and areas where they have done inspections so they know how prepared a neighborhood is when fighting a fire in the area. He said they are better able to protect homes if the homeowner has prepared the home.
"We couldn't do it alone. We have to have the community involved, especially when it's their own personal property," Stuebner said.
Alison Stroud, a member of the Sandy city council, said she learned a lot from the firefighters on Saturday, not only that homeowners can make their homes defensible, but how dangerous a brush fire spreading into a neighborhood can be.
"It's pretty impressive, and it's scary," she said. "(A fire) can devastate a community in the blink of an eye."
Although she lives away from brush areas, Stroud said she plans to clean her gutters and make sure fall leaves have been picked up.
Sandy fire Chief Bruce Cline said some of the city parks were designed with wildfires in mind. They have a place for a helicopter to land and often contain "a pumpkin," a large dipping tank that holds 6,000 gallons of water for the helicopter to resupply. They are close to the woodland area since the helicopter can't fly over homes with the water, and the park provides a good base for firefighters.
A park opening Memorial Day weekend, the Bell Canyon Preservation Trailhead, has similar preparations for wildfires, Cline said.
He suggests that people be very cautious with weed-eating, fireworks and open fires. He said people should be ready for an evacuation with supplies and documents gathered during fire season.
"If you follow that (evacuation) order, the woodland crews, the firefighters, know that they don't have to worry about you now," Cline said. "But when you didn't follow the order, then they're spending time doing what you should have done a day or two ago, and not fighting the fire."