Students plan how to minimize wildfire in urbanized areas

A Grand Rapids neighborhood along Golf Course Road is a learning study area for a Minnesota Wildfire Academy course. As communities grow and people move to more wooded areas, the way firefighters respond to fires changes as wildfire collides with urban areas.  The wildland/urban interface is a zone where human-made improvements intermix with wildland fuels.

Fire Operations in the Urban Interface class students get instructions on the field trip.

Students are learning the tactics of wildfire operations in these urban settings such as where to put an engine, where to use water or remove fuels to best protect a home or neighborhood.  A second objective of the course is to lessen hazards on and around structures.  Course instructor Jeb Backe said, “fortunately, there are many easy (and some more difficult) ways to make homes more fire safe.”

Students evaluate the fire safety of a local home.

One resident of the area, Anna Deadrick, invited students to view her home and yard and make suggestions on how to improve fire safety.  First off, students said her home has a mowed area around the house which is good.  Brick on the lower portion of the house is good preventative measure as are rocks along one side of the garage.  Suggestions for improvements were to move a small pile of wood from under the deck or cover it with a tarp, wrap deck posts in metal near the ground, and move items from the side of the garage. Overall, the home and yard are fire safe.

An open area below the deck is good. This home owner could improve fire safety by moving the wood pile or covering it with a tarp and by adding metal coverings on the wood posts.

Generally, Backe said 20 to 30 feet of lawn around the home is ideal and trimming trees so you can mow under them with a riding lawn mower is good.  I is also best to not have conifer trees in the 20 to 30 feet around the home.

Removing ladder fuels (those that can allow fire to climb to the crowns of the pines) improves fire safety.

Students have used the Golf Course Road neighborhood for the wildfire/urban interface studies for 10 years.  Backe said comparing photos from those early years and to those today show a marked improvement in fire safety over the years.

The Minnesota Wildfire Academy is in its 18th year.  On Thursday, June 7, there are 19 courses and 463 students.  An incident management team is managing the academy with 54 personnel.