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Yakima County commissioners adopt wildfire protection plan

YAKIMA – The county’s wildfire protection plan was this past Tuesday adopted by the Yakima County Commission at its regular meeting.

The 109-page plan outlines an analysis of wildfire risks, according to Yakima County Fire Protection Bureau Chief Jakki MacLean.

She said mitigation activities are identified in the plan in order to increase “…survivability when wildfire does occur.”

Statistics provided in the plan show the majority of wildfires are caused by humans. Nearly 120 fires were human-caused in 2012. However, the number of fires in Yakima County was significantly lower (approximately 35) than in previous years.

The plan calls for landowners to reduce hazardous fuel loads and create defensible spaces where properties interface with wildland areas.

The county also has designated at-risk areas based on population. This is important for the purpose of determining mitigation plans outlined in the wildfire plan.

Lightly populated areas, according to the plan, should have two evacuation routes for residents.

Identified as a concern is residential growth in much of the county. County officials note individual developments continue to increase the number of occupied structures in the urban interface areas. These buildings represent an increase upon the demand for services…and pose an increased risk to the safety of the residents and suppression forces when fire conditions require resources to be deployed.

Also identified in the plan are fuel loads, such as forested areas and grasslands. The fuel loads and topography of different areas of the county have been mapped out in the plan.

Understanding the different fuel loads can help officials with mitigation efforts, including clearing away any dead and dying trees that are impacted by disease. If an epidemic, such as increase in the western spruce budworm that is infecting trees in the Highway 410 and 12 area, is found to be problematic, trees can be treated before the insect kills them.

Much of the plan addresses the wildfire needs for the Yakama Nation, Highway 410 and 12 residents, and Cowychee Mountain. But, according to the newly adopted plan, Yakima County Fire District #5 will work with other fire districts to re-establish fire lines in rangeland areas as part of its mitigation effort.

Identified in the plan, too, are the resources provided by the DNR, each fire district within the county, U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and other state and federal agencies that may respond to a wildfire.

MacLean presented the plan to the commissioners Tuesday for adoption. The plan will be forwarded to the Washington Department of Natural Resources for final approval.

Once approved by the DNR, the county would be eligible for state and federal grants for wildfire protection.

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