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Ryderwood, Washington

The town of Ryderwood in Washington may be a small retirement community, but its residents are out to prove that older adults can be Firewise, too.

Ryderwood, WAThe newly designated Firewise community kicked off their Firewise Week on Oct. 1 as volunteers went home-to-home clearing brush, trimming bushes and hauling debris to designated areas for pick-up. The work was done in preparation for the town’s Fall Chipper Day on Oct. 6, where a chipper went around picking up excess brush and wood debris.

Ryderwood resident Gayle Ehlman noted that the clean-up day was a success as it increased awareness of wildfire mitigation and helped residents who were not physically able to trim bushes or rake property. “[Before Firewise,] we didn’t see the problems,” Gayle writes. “Now we do, and can take action to remove them.”

Implementing Firewise principles is especially important for Ryderwood’s residents because their tiny town is located in a valley formed by hills covered with timber. To further complicate things, most of the homes were built in 1923 and are spaced very close to one another, increasing their risk of wildfire ignition.

An additional wildfire hazard the community faces is an accumulation of unused building materials, including dimensional lumber. Since Ryderwood is 30 miles away from the nearest lumberyard, it is normal for people to buy extra wood products so they don’t have to go back if they buy a wrong size.  By partaking in this practice, residents accumulated materials in and around their homes that could potentially fuel wildfires.

In order to rid the retirement village of its excess lumber, the non-profit organization Habitat for Humanity came through town on Oct. 5 and collected usable dimensional lumber, doors, windows, and other usable building materials that had been in storage. All was done as part of the larger effort to educate residents and reduce the community’s risk to wildfire.

“It’s amazing what a small group of ‘old folks’ can do to help our town be more Firewise,” writes Gayle. “In one year, we’ve seen more and more folks looking at their homes, deciding to remove or trim bushes, planting fire resistant plants and helping their neighbors clear up yards and alley ways.”

Ryderwood in Washington became a recognized Firewise Communities/USA site in 2010 and plan to go forth with their wildfire mitigation efforts. Their volunteer fire department recently merged with a volunteer fire department in a neighboring town, and they hope to get the newcomers on board with their own Firewise plan and assessment. Ultimately, Gayle hopes her town’s story will teach a valuable lesson about implementing Firewise principles – “If the old folks can do it, anyone can.”