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South Sound firefighters prepare for new risk: wildfires

After a wildfire destroyed six homes in Pierce County in 2020, firefighters in the south Puget Sound region are preparing for the possibility of another fire.

GRAHAM, Wash. — Firefighters in western Washington say they need to learn new ways to fight fires, as the risk for wildfires in the region has grown.

Darrell Herde never thought he’d have to worry about wildfires.

But his rural Pierce County home, where he had lived for nearly 30 years, was destroyed by a wildfire in 2020.

“September 8,” said Herde. “When you lose everything you’ve ever had, you don’t forget the date.”

Herde’s property was one of six homes destroyed in the fire.

“That was an eye-opener,” said Graham Fire & Rescue Chief Oscar Espinosa.

Espinosa said his agency has purchased new equipment and vehicles to respond to the growing threat of wildfires.

This week Graham Fire & Rescue is hosting a training exercise for 10 Pierce-county area fire departments, specifically to prepare for wildfires.

"We're busy training for new hazards we call wildland-urban interface,” said Espinosa.

The training is paid for with Federal Emergency Management Agency grants.

Captain Johnny Davidson, a firefighter from Round Rock, Texas, is one of several instructors from around the country training the western Washington firefighters.

The training is usually reserved for firefighters in central and eastern Washington, but firefighters in the Puget Sound region say wildfires are something crews and homeowners need to prepare for on both sides of the Cascades.

Davidson said homeowners can reduce the risk of being victims by creating a 30-foot buffer zone between a structure and vegetation or combustibles.

While the wet spring has kept things lush and green, Espinosa said it does not take long for conditions to dry out.


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