By Marcy Stamper
Methow Valley News 

Adapting to fire helped save house and avoid a 'moonscape'


Last updated 11/3/2021 at 4:12pm

Marcy Stamper

Trees and low vegetation near the house were singed by the fire, but the mature trees are expected to survive.

As the Cedar Creek Fire approached their house in July, Peter Polson and Shannon Huffman Polson were reasonably confident they'd done their best to protect their home.

Today, the scars from the fire are stark. The ground is charred just 20 feet away, but the house is untouched. The trunks of the large pines near the house are blackened and some of the needles are brown, but most of the crowns look green and healthy. Further from the house, the vegetation burned more severely.

The Polsons moved to the Methow Valley in 2014, just a week after the Carlton Complex Fire roared through. So, as they were planning their home the following year, they knew how important it was to do everything they could to protect it.

They sought out Ken Bevis, a stewardship wildlife biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and showed him the hillside where they wanted to build their house.

Bevis compared fires to hurricanes, Peter said. "He said, 'It's not if, but when,'" and advised them to prepare so any fire that did come through would burn at a low intensity.

Bevis pointed out the dense forest of fuels - small and large Ponderosa pines - surrounding the homesite. The Polsons removed about eight large pines and two dozen smaller trees near the house. They also removed the lower limbs on mature pines to make them less vulnerable to a ground fire. And they took the opportunity to incorporate wildlife habitat, leaving snags for birds and clumps of trees further from the house as a refuge for deer and other wildlife.

"We respect and want to keep the trees, so that's why we cut them," Shannon said. "We didn't want to live in a moonscape. The fuels reduction prevented that."

With predictions that the Cedar Creek Fire was heading toward their home, the Polsons were in touch with the firefighters even after they'd evacuated. The firefighters said the Polsons' preparations had had a decisive impact on the fire and had created a safe zone for them to fight the fire, Peter said.

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