State urging residents to better protect themselves from wildfires

CLE ELUM, Wash. -- Western Washington's recent heat wave means fire season has begun, and this year the state is out to encourage homeowners to take steps now that could end up saving their homes.

The challenge, according to fire officials, is convincing people it could happen to them.

So many Washingtonians will not soon forget last year's destructive Taylor-Bridge fires. And nobody will remember the flames more than the very people whose homes -- and lives -- were threatened.

John and Carolyn Berglund are among them.

"It was pretty scary. There was a lot of ash, a lot of smoke," Carolyn said.

But the threat of forest fires this year and forever more is not quite as scary due to the simple steps the Berglund's and others have taken.

"We're landscaping here to really make us less vulnerable," Carolyn said.

Residents in the area have put in trees that don't catch fire as easily, trimmed back their shrubs and laid gravel. They also planted bushes that are less susceptible to burning and removed heavy timber close to their homes.

"There's a pretty good chance we're going to save your home. And if it's thick, heavy timber right up to your house, it makes it really, really difficult," said Lt. Michael Jones with Kittitas County Fire District 7.

A group of homeowners near Cle Elum was recently awarded the 100th Firewise Honor. It's a program run by the state Department of Public Lands to make it more likely homes and homeowners will survive a forest fire.

One thing is certain: Forest fires will continue to break out, and climate change is already making them more severe. But the people in Cle Elum have made it clear they will do whatever it takes to keep the flames away from their homes.

More information on how to protect your home from fire is available here.