1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar

Catawba, Virginia

Virginia homeowners who live in woodland homes may be at a high risk of wildfire if there are heavy fuel loads on the forest floor, steep slopes, south-facing aspects, or ladder fuels.  Firewise landscaping is a way to reduce this risk to acceptable levels by reducing fuel loads to create fire breaks—“defensible space”—around woodland homes.  This story tells how a relatively small investment in fuel reduction costs contributed to preventing thousands of dollars of damage, and may well have saved life and limb.

Cannaday home after the Pickle Branch wildfireThe New River-Highlands RC&D Council (a 501 C4 organization based in Wytheville, Virginia) and the Virginia Department of Forestry have been collaborating for nearly a decade to demonstrate the benefit of Firewise landscaping.  In 2010, using funds from the U.S. Forest Service Community Protection Grant Program, the New River-Highlands RC&D Council and the Virginia Department of Forestry completed fuel reduction for three woodland homes located along Miller Cove Road in Catawba, Virginia.  During the night of February 19th and the early morning of February 20th, 2011, these woodland homes were directly threatened by the Pickle Branch Wildfire that burned more than 650 acres in Craig County, Virginia.

Ken Harrison’s Woodland Home
During the summer months, Ken Harrison is a woodland homeowner, residing in Catawba, Virginia.  In August of 2010, just 6 months before the Pickle Branch Fire in Craig County, RC&D Council staff and contractors assessed Mr. Harrison’s risk of wildfire using an evaluation tool developed by the Virginia Department of Forestry.  After the assessment indicated an extreme risk of wildfire (pre-mitigation wildfire risk score of 47), Mr. Harrison agreed to participate in the Protecting Woodland Homes project.  Project contractor Titan Wildfire Resources, INC chipped up and removed several tons of downed fuels from the immediate vicinity of Mr. Harrison’s residence.  The purpose of this fuel reduction was to create a defensible space around the residence and reduce the risk of wildfire.  Figures 1 and 2 depict Ken Harrison’s woodland home before and after Firewise fuel reduction activities were completed.

This Firewise fuel reduction project was put to the toughest test homeowners and wildland firefighters alike hope they never have to face—a live wildfire situation.  As the wildfire approached, wildland firefighters set up a Type 1 Engine with a crew of 5 to protect the structure.  The fuel reduction efforts completed six months prior gave the structure protection crew some advantage, allowing them to quickly construct a fire line and burn out leaf litter between the structure and the advancing wildfire.   Although the steep terrain behind the house made protecting this structure difficult, the structure protection crews managed to extinguish all of the embers and firebrands that rolled down the slope.  Figure 3depicts Ken Harrison’s woodland home after the Pickle Branch wildfire burned to within 10 feet of the structure.

Ken Harrison home after the Pickle Branch wildfire 

RC Steele’s Woodland Home
Steele home before Firewise practicesRC Steele is a woodland homeowner, residing in Catawba, Virginia.  In August of 2010, just 6 months before the Pickle Branch Fire in Craig County, RC&D Council staff and contractors assessed Mr. Steele’s risk of wildfire using an evaluation tool developed by the Virginia Department of Forestry.  After the assessment indicated a high risk of wildfire (pre-mitigation wildfire risk score of 38), Mr. Steele agreed to participate in the Protecting Woodland Homes project.  Project contractor Titan Wildfire Resources, INC chipped up and removed several tons of downed fuels from the immediate vicinity of Mr. Steele’s residence.  The purpose of this fuel reduction was to create a defensible space around the residence and reduce the risk of wildfire.  Figures 4 and 5 depict RC Steele’s woodland home before and after Firewise fuel reduction activities were completed.

This Firewise fuel reduction project was put to the toughest test homeowners and wildland firefighters alike hope they never have to face—a live wildfire situation.  On the night of February 19th, and into the early hours of February 20th, Mr. Steele and his family watched from their living room as a wildfire burned around the ridge and crossed the drainage behind the house.  As the Steeles looked on, a crew of wildland firefighters used a leaf blower to remove some leaf litter and put in a small trench line to catch embers and firebrands that rolled down the steep slope towards his house. The Steele’s residence required little effort to protect, thanks to the fuel reduction efforts, and a “defensible” space.  Figure 6 shows that the fire that burned in the immediate vicinity of the Steele residence was of low intensity, as indicated by the patchy burn patterns.

Steele home after Firewise practices  Steele home after the Pickle Branch wildfire

Robert Cannaday’s Woodland Home
Robert Cannaday is a woodland homeowner, residing in Catawba, Virginia.  In August of 2010, just 6 months before the Pickle Branch Fire in Craig County, RC&D Council staff and contractors assessed Mr. Cannaday’s risk of wildfire using an evaluation tool developed by the Virginia Department of Forestry.  After the assessment indicated an extreme risk of wildfire (pre-mitigation wildfire risk score of 43), Mr. Cannaday agreed to participate in the Protecting Woodland Homes project.  Project contractor Titan Wildfire Resources, INC chipped up and removed several tons of downed fuels from the immediate vicinity of Mr. Steele’s residence.  The purpose of this fuel reduction was to create a defensible space around the residence and reduce the risk of wildfire.

This Firewise fuel reduction project was put to the toughest test homeowners and wildland firefighters alike hope they never have to face—a live wildfire situation.  On the night of February 19th, and into the early hours of February 20th, a crew of wildland firefighters used a leaf blower to remove some leaf litter and put in a small trench line to catch embers and firebrands that rolled down the steep slope towards his house. The Cannaday residence required little effort to protect, thanks to the fuel reduction efforts, and a “defensible” space.  Figures 7 and 8 depict a wildfire whose advance was thwarted by fuel reduction activities and the efforts of the wildland fire fighters.

Cannaday home after the Pickle Branch wildfire Cannaday home after the Pickle Branch wildfire 

Summary
Wildland firefighting crews have only a limited amount of time and resources to try and protect a woodland home that is threatened by wildfire.  Firewise fuel reduction and landscaping reduces woodland homeowners’ risk of wildfire and can help extend firefighting crews’ limited resources.