Snohomish County Fire District 26 Lt. Scott Coulson shields volunteer firefighter Schuyler Murphy from the limbs of a falling tree as they create “defensible space” during practice for the wildfire season on Wednesday in Gold Bar. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Snohomish County Fire District 26 Lt. Scott Coulson shields volunteer firefighter Schuyler Murphy from the limbs of a falling tree as they create “defensible space” during practice for the wildfire season on Wednesday in Gold Bar. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Officials seek homeowner help after wildfires in May

GOLD BAR — The Proctor Creek blaze near Gold Bar in May was the biggest wildfire Snohomish County had seen in years.

It also was a reminder that fire season already is here, posing a threat even in Western Washington. The worst months historically for fires are July and August, but the season has been getting longer and starting earlier, Gold Bar fire Lt. Scott Coulson said.

Last year, Coulson spent 45 days fighting wildfires east of the mountains. He also was the incident commander for the first 12 hours of the Proctor Creek fire, which burned more than 300 acres and resulted in evacuation notices.

For the second year in a row, Gold Bar firefighters are running a public safety campaign to encourage people to make their homes less susceptible to wildfires.

That thinking needs to start now, Coulson said.

“It’s not something that happens overnight,” he said. “It’s a mindset you have to get in for your property, and it does take a lot of work, but the time to do it is not when you have a 300-acre brush fire closing in on your house.”

Last year, the campaign was called “Defensible Space?”, in part to get people’s attention. This year, the message was tweaked to “Got your 100 feet?” That refers to the size of a buffer zone around the house in which the landscaping and trees are maintained to reduce fire hazard. Long dry grass, pine needles on the roof and big leafy branches are fuel for fires. The same goes for gutter debris and stacks of firewood.

Billboards for the safety campaign can be seen from U.S. 2.

At Proctor Creek, leafy trees were in full-blown flames. It wasn’t just dead limbs.

Clearing 100 feet — or even 30 feet — can “greatly increase the chances of your house being saved,” Coulson said.

The firefighters are heeding their own advice. On Wednesday, Gold Bar crews spent time limbing trees on the district’s newly acquired property next to Fire Station 54 along the highway.

As part of the campaign, firefighters will come out to homes within district boundaries and offer advice on wildfire prevention. Last year a few folks took them up on it, Coulson said.

People living in Western Washington, even the densely forested Gold Bar area, still are getting used to the idea that wildfires can happen here, he said. The Proctor Creek fire prompted a renewed interest in having the crews talk to neighborhood groups. It’s a good thing for those conversations to happen, Coulson said.

Fire season can be unpredictable. This year is supposed to be wetter than last year, yet Proctor Creek happened.

In terms of size, that fire was nothing “we hadn’t seen,” Coulson said. “It was new that it was happening in our own back yard in May.”

Rikki King: 425-339-3449;

For more information about wildfire prevention, visit To schedule a risk assessment in or near the Gold Bar fire district, contact For other parts of the county, contact your local fire district.

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