Lakeshore Homes are Flammable

Perhaps you have a whole lake right out your front window.  With all that water on the landscape how can your property be at risk from wildfire?

Lakeshore Homes are Flammable

John Haack, UWEX and James Gobel, DNR

Each year, homes across Wisconsin are threatened by wildfire. With the increasing number of homes and seasonal cabins being built in areas surrounded by highly flammable vegetation, structural protection has become the most difficult challenge for firefighters during any wildfire.

Northwestern Wisconsin has a long history of destructive wildfires, especially in areas dominated by pine forests. The most recent example in Washburn County was the 1980 Oak Lake fire, over 11,000 acres burned in just over six hours.   More than one hundred structures were lost in the fire, mostly in and around Casey Township.  However, it doesn’t have to be a large fire to threaten your home.  Research shows that flying embers (firebrands) and creeping surface fire are significant contributors in the loss of homes to wildfires. A critical factor in determining whether or not a home will survive a wildfire is how “Firewise” it is. With a little time and effort you can create a defensible space that provides an area where firefighters can safely work to defend your home or cabin or even enable it to survive a wildfire on its own.

To begin making your home and property “Firewise,” start with your home itself and work you way outward following these guidelines:

The Home itself:

  • Clean needles, leaves, and branches off roofs and out of rain gutters.
  • Clean areas that tend to be natural trap for leaves and pine needles, such as on and under decks, window ledges, and next to foundations. These are areas that embers from a fire will want to collect as well.
  • Access. Can your driveway accommodate a large fire engine?
  • Finally, take a stroll around this area. If you see a place where you would not feel comfortable lighting that match, throwing it down and walking away, you still have some Firewise work to do.

The first 30 feet from structures:

  • Keep the grass cut short, well watered, and free of accumulated flammable debris.
  • Trees and shrubs in this area should be well spaced and preferably restricted to deciduous species. Keep evergreen trees well spaced with at least 15 feet between tree crowns.
  • Look for potential “fuses” like wooden walkways, fences, and weedy gardens that reach from the woods to your buildings. Break these up with patios or green lawn.
  • Keep lumber or firewood piles at least 30 feet from any building.

30 to 100 feet around structures:  (Especially important if the area is predominantly evergreens.)

  • Thin trees so that the crowns are at least 10 feet apart.
  • Prune limbs 6 to 10 feet up the trunk. This process reduces the “ladder fuels” that would allow a fire to move from the ground to the treetops and from tree to tree.
  • Keep dead and down fuel accumulation on the forest floor to a minimum.

For more detailed information you can visit or contact Jim Gobel at the Spooner DNR 635-4088

Marty, the Firewise Guy

By: Bill Matthias

Is your property Firewise?  If you live in or near the beautiful Wisconsin forested lands, could your home or cabin be saved if there was a forest fire? If a fire crept, leaped or raged towards your lake cabin or home, would the local volunteer fire department be able to save it?  Would your precious home and belongings be easily swept away in boiling 1000 degree flames, or would the DNR or fire departments have a chance to save it?

If you don’t know for sure, there is a man hired by the Wisconsin DNR to help you. Free advice about making your home fire wise is available by just asking Marty Kasinskas; pronounced (Ka – sins- kus). Marty is a 30 year veteran fire fighter with the DNR and has his office right here in northwest Wisconsin at the Barnes Ranger Station. Just call the Firewise contact phone number 715-816-4004. Marty will either talk to you on the phone or personally visit you and give you an assessment on what things you can do to keep the hottest flames away from your structures in the event of a forest fire.

Marty, the Firewise guy will also give talks to your neighborhood group, lake association or service club showing pictures that will illustrate the program. Call on him for help because he is the local “wild land urban interface specialist,” working with folks who live on the boarder of urban space and forested lands.

The concept developed by Jack Cohen Fire Scientist with the U.S. Forest Service is that we are all responsible. The DNR cannot save your house alone – the local volunteer fire department cannot save your house without your help and planning. You as a land owner can prepare your home or cabin to help withstand the threat of a wildfire by initiating the Firewise concept on your property.

What the program calls for is to have at least 30 feet of space around your home and garage that is “lean, clean, and green.” Have a disaster plan for the family or any visitors, and provide for emergency assess and egress. Build your driveway or cut trees so that large trucks can get to your building sites and turn around. Have your roof fire resistant. Make sure your fire numbers are not covered with branches or leaves and can be easily seen, even at night.

In short, being fire wise is planning ahead and doing the work necessary to have “defensible space” surrounding your cabin or home. Marty will help you with advice, and printed literature so your home won’t be the one that is burned to the ground in a wild fire. Call him at 715-816-4004.

Bill Matthias is writing a book about the Five Mile Tower Forest Fire which burned in this area 31 years ago. That fire, in 1977, burned 14,000 acres and 63 structures were lost. It is the largest forest fire in the last 50 years of Wisconsin history started by a single source – a match to light a camp fire. Experts say it can happen again. The Wisconsin Historical Society is publishing the book and it is schedule to be released in 2009.