Creating survivable space proves valuable

2012-05-13T16:53:00Z 2012-07-31T14:45:21Z Creating survivable space proves valuableEmilie Rusch Journal staff Rapid City Journal
May 13, 2012 4:53 pm  • 

The wildfire that scorched about an acre near the Red Rock Meadows subdivision Thursday came within 35 feet of the home Chris Brinker shares with his wife, Paula, and their two college-age daughters.

But a city fire official said Friday that even without the quick response of local fire fighters, the Brinker house would have likely survived the blaze – thanks to some preventative measures taken well before the first flame ignited.

“We got pretty lucky here that it didn’t take off,” said Lt. Tim Weaver of the Rapid City Fire Department as he visited with Brinker late Friday morning. “Even if it had, your house would have been fine.”

No structures were damaged in the Red Rock fire, which was reported around 5:30 p.m. Thursday burning in thick timber and grass near Prestwick Road just past the Rapid City limit. It was contained by 8 p.m.

Weaver said it could have been much worse if Brinker and other adjacent residential property owners had not already taken steps to limit the fuel for fire on their own land.

“The way those houses are built and the yards are maintained and the way they thinned the trees leading up to their properties, those houses are survivable,” Weaver said. “All of those houses would have survived without help from us.”

In hopes of encouraging more property owners to do the same, the Rapid City Fire Department is asking for about $100,000 in city funds to help defray the cost of fuel reduction projects for residents, who often can pay $3,000 per property.

The money would come from the city’s mountain pine beetle program, which wrapped up its work at the end of April.

Of the $350,000 in city funds allocated to the pine beetle program, about $100,000 is remaining, according to city documents. The beetle program reimbursed city residents for up to 75 percent of the cost of removing infested trees.

Weaver said if granted the funds, the fire department would likely offer city residents a maximum of $1,000 toward the cost of thinning trees and brush on their property.

The department’s Survivable Space Initiative also has a grant to provide up to 50 percent reimbursement to property owners for similar projects.

“These fuel reduction projects are expensive. It’s nice to be able to provide some relief to help homeowners do it,” Weaver said. “They aren’t indifferent to the problem. They know this is fire country.”

The Public Works Committee will consider the request Tuesday.

In Red Rock Meadows, fuel reduction was a requirement of the subdivision’s development and Brinker said when he built his house in 2007, his property looked much the one that burned Thursday.

He ended up thinning his pine tree stand with a chainsaw extension he rented in town so the few remaining trees were widely spaced and far from the house. In the process, he carted out six pickup truck loads of pine needles, he said.

On Friday, his property was unscathed, the only sign of the previous day’s fire -- a lingering smell of smoke.

“That was my biggest fear when we built this house, that it would catch on fire,” Brinker said, pointing to the site of the fire, an undeveloped area just beyond a thin wire fence at the property line.

He and his wife are actually looking to sell their home in the near future, but Brinker said after Thursday’s fire, he will definitely thin the trees and create a defensible space wherever they end up next.

“I want to buy five to 10 acres. The whole thing is going to look like this,” Brinker said.

Contact Emilie Rusch at 394-8453 or emilie.rusch@rapidcityjournal.com.

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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