What is ‘defensible space’ and how did it save homes from the Art Nord Fire?

Northern Utah News

WEBER COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – As crews continue to mop up at the scene of the Art Nord Fire, firefighters tell ABC4 part of the reason they were successful at saving all those homes is the Weber Fire District’s mitigation program.

Ash devils are currently active in the area burned during the Art Nord Fire near Huntsville. The burn scar spans nearly 50 acres and stops just feet away from a handful of homes.

“This is a good example of really good, effective defensible spacing,” Captain Rick Cooper tells ABC4. “Absolutely.”

Captain Cooper is the Weber County Fire Warden. He helps lead the county’s mitigation program that teaches communities about defensible space. “The homeowners are allowed to remove the fuel that we recommend to remove from the property to reduce the probability of a catastrophic fire, but also to reduce the probability of damage to the home,” he explains.

The Art Nord Fire raced toward four homes this weekend. Cooper says the fire burned extremely hot. This being caused by a few things. He explains fuel moisture levels are low due to the drought, the fire started on the south side of the mountain which makes it even dryer, and the area is thick in oak trees which burn hot and fast during a wildfire.

Cooper says the firefighters acted quickly and aircraft responded to help suppress the flames. However, Cooper tells ABC4 a big thank you goes to the homeowners in the area who used their landscaping to create defensible space.

For the four homes closest to the fire Cooper says there was “minimal help from us.”

He explains the homes are classified as stand-alone. He says this means if the fire had been worse, or covered a larger area, firefighters could have sent resources to more at-risk areas, and the four homes could have survived on their own.

Cooper tells ABC4 this success in keeping the homes safe is part of the reason the fire district has its mitigation program.

“Some people spend a lifetime building these homes in these beautiful vistas that we have in the state of Utah,” Cooper states. “Let’s keep those vistas here and keep the structures and the homes and those memories here.”

Cooper says the mitigation program usually takes place in the spring before wildfire season kicks off. The fire district works with cities, HOAs, and other community groups to teach classes about the importance of defensible space and how to create it at home. He says communities interested in learning more about fire mitigation should contact their local fire departments or the forest service for more information.

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