When Fire Safety Hits Home

I lead a creative services agency that brings innovative technology and solutions to our work with firefighters and air quality agencies across Washington state. Wildfires and wildfire smoke play a significant part in projects we work on and  we help these organizations share crucial information within the organizations and the public.  

As a small forest landowner, my husband and I also share the responsibility of implementing wildfire prevention strategies wherever we can.  With neighbors we take great steps to clear our lane of too much overhanging vegetation and remove any obvious issues. As parts of Western Washington become drier each summer, fire is one of my biggest fears.

wood chipping party with neighbors

Neighbors work together to curb the overgrowth along the road.

As it would happen, my fear would soon be realized as an unknown neighbor a half mile away, accidentally started a brush fire that took multiple fire stations throughout Whidbey Island to control. That reality check meant it was time to create some wildfire defensible spaces around our heavily wooded home.

Wildfire in forest

Smoke and flames a short distance away from our neighborhood.

My husband and I are passionate about forest stewardship. We’ve dealt with our fair share of windblown, uprooted trees and survived many nerve-wracking windstorms. As a result, we also take on the responsibility of removing trees if they’re diseased, rotting, or in bad locations, as well as the never-ending task of cleaning up. As we get older, these duties can often feel overwhelming. We cut, buck, haul, and split what lumber we can. Longer, good logs go to our small sawmill and have been used in building various parts of our home. Our guiding principle has always been, “no wood leaves the property,” except of course for giving firewood to friends.

Uprooted trees

In November of 2022, a storm upturned and took down a mix of 22 hemlock, firs and alders

When my husband hurt his back this spring, we had to give up our plans to rent heavy equipment and clean up the yard ourselves. Determined to clear the brush and debris before the hot summer heat made the forest feel like a tinderbox, I searched for a solution that would create a wildfire defensible space while also turning the area into a walkable haven.

The Power of Forestry Mulching

In May, I found Bell Forestry Mulching, a company whose eco-friendly approach matched my vision. Excited to learn more, I reached out and met Travis and Ted at the end of the day. Impressed by their expertise, we booked a spot on their schedule for June.

Forestry mulching is an advanced land management technique used to create wildfire defensible spaces. This innovative method can be used to reduce the risk of fire spread. It’s an environmentally friendly practice that grinds up brush into the top layer of soil. It cuts down fuel loads, and clears away years of overgrowth much faster than traditional methods or trying to do it ourselves. By creating this protective buffer zone, we significantly increased our property’s chances of surviving a wildfire, while also making terraced areas that are easy to replant and maintain.

Before and After

Move the slider below right to see the hillside before the work and move it left to see the final product.

Additional Benefits

With no debris to clear, we didn’t need to burn or chip anything. This is a huge plus, as it stops the release of harmful smoke and pollutants into the air, reducing our impact on air quality and cutting down carbon emissions. Plus, the nutrient-rich mulch helps fight soil erosion and promotes healthier soil. To top it all off, it smells amazing! The whole process took just two and a half days, and we even managed to include extra areas at the front of the house. The work was done perfectly, exceeding all expectations and making the replanting process even more enjoyable.

 Looking Ahead

With the area cleared, we quickly planted three different types of clover instead of grass. Our goal is to grow a sturdy ground cover that will not only return nitrogen to the soil but also attract important pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

This fall, we plan to add some shorter fruit trees and other low-growing, erosion-controlling plants. In the spots where trees were removed, we’ll replant as we do every year. To make sure we use the right native species, we’ll order plants from our local conservation district. 

A big thanks to Bell Forestry Mulching for their outstanding service. The experience has left us feeling less stressed and truly inspired.


Green hillside
Green hillside