Even before Friday's devastating wildfire, a program was being introduced here to inform homeowners how they can better protect their property from fire.
Called Firewise, the program in Brainerd-Baxter is being initiated by the Brainerd Fire Department and the DNR.
The program will focus on access to property, vegetation and structure to create a situation in which a house has a better chance to survive a wildfire.
"We're looking at what can burn or carry fire to a house," said Mark Wurdeman, DNR Firewise specialist for the Brainerd region.
The premise of the Firewise program is to create a 30- to 100-foot buffer zone in which to reduce the potential for fire. Measures recommended include clearing brush piles, moving wood piles at least 30 feet away from any structures and mowing and watering the lawn regularly.
Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Mahle said it's important to build a driveway at least 14 feet wide so emergency vehicles, such as fire trucks and ambulances, can get into a property.
The program also makes it safer for firefighters to get to a fire. Friday's fire burned about 720 acres and destroyed eight structures in and around Barrows.
Property owners can use the following checklist to reduce home and property wildfire hazards. Residents are first advised to create a 30- to 100-foot defensible space around their home, and use the checklist within that space. Homes built in a pine forest should have a minimum 100-foot defensible space.
* Rake all leaves, dead limbs and twigs. Clear all flammable vegetation.
* Thin a 15-foot space between pine and spruce tree crowns and prune lower limbs within 6-10 feet of the ground to eliminate the fire ladder.
* Remove wild bush and tall grass within 30 feet of structures.
* Ask the power company to clear branches from power lines.
* Remove vines from the walls of the home.
* Mow and water grass regularly.
* Manage the pine-spruce forest around your home through regular thinning harvests.
* Clear a 10-foot space around propane tanks.
* Don't dispose of ashes until they are "cold out."
* Stack firewood at least 30 feet from any structure.
* Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans.
* Regularly clean roof and gutters of leaves and needles.
* Inspect your chimney at least twice a year.
* Screen-in or skirt openings under decks and mobile homes.
* Use fire resistant building and roofing materials.
* Be sure your driveway is at least 14 feet wide. Trim overhanging branches. Create a turnout.
* Be sure an ambulance can get in your driveway and to your home.
* Be sure your house number is clearly visible from the road.
* Have working smoke detectors.
Brainerd firefighters spent hours at homes spraying them down with water and compressed air foam and DNR firefighters were still putting out hot spots Wednesday. Mahle said his firefighters won't go onto property if it is unsafe and no lives are at stake.
An example of Firewise from Friday's fire was the home of Greg Ostrowski, which was destroyed by the wildfire. Wurdeman and Mahle both said, except for a narrow driveway, the Ostrowski home for the most part was a good example of what the Firewise program was set up to accomplish.
The fire concerns with the Ostrowski residence included a wood deck on the back of the house and wood chips that were used for landscaping. The Ostrowski home burned from the back to the front, possibly ignited by embers landing on the wood chips and deck.
The remainder of the property was set up to avoid fire, with a well-manicured lawn, and the trees were thinned and away from the home.
"For all intents and purposes, that house should've survived," said Wurdeman.
The program was started in Minnesota in December 2001, and was ready to be put in place earlier this year. Wurdeman said several thousands of dollars in grants will be used to implement Firewise.
Mahle said he hopes to start the program sometime this month. Firefighters will be leaving checklists at selected areas that the fire department feels are high risk properties in Brainerd's fire service area, Mahle said, and the DNR will be hosting public meetings. People concerned can request a special audit, Mahle added.
"It's like any other fire safety educational tool," said Mahle. "We can teach them but unless they grasp it and take it to heart, it won't help."
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