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Choosing a property/wildfires

 
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Hello all--thanks in advance for your insight on this. My husband and I are looking for properties, probably between 20 and 50 acres, to start our lives as novice permaculturists. We are both from Oregon and are reluctant to move very far from the Pacific Northwest. Eastern WA or Okanogan County look affordable to us with decent rainfall. Yet, we are aware of the wildfire risk--but it also seems like just about anywhere in the Western US is a wildfire risk now. Thoughts on where to look? We would stay in the Willamette Valley where we currently live, but land has become expensive here--our budget is 50k-150k. We'd also like to move out of the Cascadia subduction zone if possible.

In terms of design, we've read that planting fire-resistant species on the perimeter of the property as well as putting in a road/fire break around the perimeter are good places to start, along with good water management. We've read mixed info that south facing slopes are good for growing but bad for wildfire risk. I know this is all has many variables, and in many ways is site-specific.

Thank you!
 
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Welcome to permies, Molly!

This is a huge problem and I don't think there are any easy solutions. Even if you're not in a fire zone yourself, smoke effects are being felt miles away from the fire sites. A Permie in Maine was having major smoke issues from fires in Ontario and further west this year.

Similarly, rainfall patterns are changing quickly. I've been in my location for over 20 years and I don't remember a drought as bad as this one. I've spent years doing things to support trees, encourage deeper roots, mulching etc, but I've still watered several fruit trees more this year than the last 5 because I don't want to loose them. The difference is that with permaculture, I'm watering once ever 3-4 weeks, rather than every 3 days the way the former owner did!

So my point is, I'd  look at properties by region as well as by specific defensibility. Maybe lean toward south-east slopes rather than pure south? In particular, budget for fire prevention infrastructure - buildings built with simple roof lines and fire-proof coverings, enough well-water that you can irrigate key locations if needed to lower the risk, large water tanks dedicated to fire prevention, along with the points you made in your last paragraph.

Hopefully some people in the regions you're considering will speak up.
 
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So what is the Cascadia subduction zone please?
 
Jay Angler
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John C Daley wrote:So what is the Cascadia subduction zone please?

Have you heard of the San Andreas Fault? The subduction zone referred to is approximately where the North American tectonic plate is sliding under one of the Pacific plates in simple terms. The actual fault lines get quite complicated in the Pacific Northwest and California. If "The Big One" hits, it's going to be messy, and big ones have hit before! We're considered overdue for it, but geological time scale is nothing like human time scale.
 
John C Daley
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What happens in that zone?
Does the land sink, get pushed up, go muddy?
 
Molly Christine
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Thank you for the welcome and the reply, Jay! Budgeting for fire-proofing makes a lot of sense... We will look into that more.

John, this is kind of a "worst case scenario" article about a subduction zone earthquake, but informative: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one
 
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Cascadia Subduction Zone

Here is a brief on the matter.

The remains of ghost forests have been found many kilometres inland. Essentially the Juan de Fuca plate is being pushed under the North American plate, from Vancouver Island down to Cape Mendocino in California. The stress of the friction between the two plates causes a buildup of strain between the two. Regular small slips produce small earthquakes regularly, but increase strain on the larger system. When larger slips occur, they produce megathrust events. Subduction zone quakes are one of the only known phenomena that can produce quakes in excess of M8.5. I believe the one that caused the disaster in Fukushima was a subduction zone event, but I will have to check my notes.

I don't know that it is possible to remain in the PNW and exit the area of effect of one such megathrust quakes.

I feel that this and wildfires are two completely unrelated issues, except that they're both issues of concern where the OP wishes to live. The risks of wildfire can be mitigated and controlled to an extent. There is nothing that can be done about subduction zone quakes, not to mention their eventual megathrust quakes, and the tsunamis they can set off, drowning acres of land in saltwater.

But then I guess they won't burn as well, eh?

-CK
 
Chris Kott
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Also, give the New Yorker article the OP has so graciously provided a good read. It paints a much better picture of the state of affairs as it stands and the fallout of the whole subduction zone releasing at once. The TLDR of it is that everything west of the I-5 is a write-off, especially after the tsunami washes everything a fair ways inland. Everything adjacent to the flood zone will be months without basic services, and years without major highways and medical services. And everything in the actual inundation zone will be rubble for years, perhaps longer.

I have family in Vancouver. I really hope they relocate to Ontario before all hell breaks loose. Some scenarios, I don't know how fantastic they really are, envision a literal splitting of the land along the subduction zone, with broken, drowned archipelagos to the west. It is generally agreed upon that in the worst-case scenario, the entire economy of the PNW will collapse. We're talking the worst natural disaster in this part of the world short of the quake cited in the New Yorker article that hit Haiti.

-CK
 
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In southern Colorado fire danger is high, as in most western states. We chose land first, and then did what was necessary for that land.

Type of danger varies with fuel types, topography, and such, but each combination has its own set of problems, so the wildland fire danger is *everywhere*. Normally I'd worry about that (land, fuel, topography), but it turns out that the two big worries (at least in my area) are "lightning" and "idiots" ... as in, worry during and after each storm (check your property for a dry lightning strike), and hope the idiots (cooking fires, trash fires, various other reasons for burning on red flag days, etc.) are far away from you.

Once we found our perfect little piece of forest, we:

1. put in a fire road (bull-dozed) around the perimeter, along with other roads we considered essential. This is a fire break, and also allows us to get around the property (with a 4wd truck and fire trailer).

2. thin the forest (this is always on-going), mostly by removing trash and stunted trees (trees bent over by weather, growing weird, etc); remove ladder fuels. should only be tall, healthy pines when done. Note that the weather knocks down more trees than we cut ...

3. built a fire-trailer (water tank, generator, pump), put gear on it. Be able to get water on something yourself. Fire department is rural, volunteer, and easily 30m away in response time ... could be longer.

And finally, become a volunteer firefighter, if possible in your area ... you'll learn lots that can be applied to every aspect of the property; what you build on it, how you handle fires and other emergencies, etc.

In the futures category ... I have a high-spot on one side, and I hope to install smoke-spotting equipment (alerts relayed back to homestead if smoke column spotted); another plan is to have drones follow the fire road (armchair perimeter checking); a third is to finish meshing out the game cam network, so I can see any spot in real-time and historically.

Again, you have to handle the emergencies yourself (while still small), before someone (police, fire, medical) finally gets to you to handle the emergency (which probably got big during the wait).


 
John C Daley
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In Australia we have problems with Bushfires.
There are a few extra things I have seen ;
- make sure your drive is a circle back to the mainroad, so firetrucks do not have to go backwards to get out.
- have at least 20,000l of water in a tank or a swimming pool that can be pumped dry.
- have suitable clothing, woollen, protective eyewear to stop radiation drying your eyes, and preventing ember damage, good boots
- sprays on house if really organised
- knapsack water spray
 
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