Wednesday, August 28, 2013

After smoke and fire, rehabilitation begins

Buffer zones in Greenhorn Gulch helped save houses

Express Staff Writer

    Firefighters miraculously saved hundreds of homes from potential destruction during the two weeks that the Beaver Creek Fire raged through the Wood River Valley. However, for many homeowners the trouble is far from over.
    On the western end of Greenhorn Gulch, where the fire burned with great intensity, 30 upscale homes stand surrounded by strips of lawn that apparently aided firefighters in saving the structures. Beyond the lawns lie many square miles of charred forests and hillsides.
    Only one home, at 239 Greenhorn Road, was destroyed. Only two chimneys are left standing.
    Blaine County Building Official Bill Dyer said the area’s R-5 zone, which sets a minimum lot size of five acres, may have given firefighters the space they needed to save the remaining homes.

Most homes in the valley
have been affected to
some degree by soot and ash.”
Ron Reese
REE Construction

    “It’s absolutely amazing that we didn’t lose the entire canyon,” Dyer said. “Zoning can take some credit for establishing these buffers [of lawns]. If it had been higher density, it would have gone right down the line.”
    In the wake of the fire, numerous property owners are facing rehabilitation costs for buildings and surrounding yards that have been affected by high heat, smoke and flames.
    “Most homes in the valley have been affected to some degree by soot and ash. Some have had heat damage and heavy ash deposited on them, and will need to be cleaned up,” said Ron Reese, the 30-year owner of REE Construction, a local disaster clean-up contractor.
    Reese said a lot of work will be done wiping up residues, dry vacuuming and dusting. He said his company negotiates terms with insurance companies and homeowners to settle on a scope of work.
    “Ventilation will do a lot to get rid of most of the smoke,” said Reese. “But it is a quantum leap to heat and fire damage, burned spots on decks, black walls, and peeling paint or melted plastic.”
    Reese said about 50 homes in the valley would need extensive cleanup work after the Beaver Creek Fire.
    Reese said after the Castle Rock Fire seven years ago his company did a lot of work cleaning up fire retardant and foam used to protect homes in the fire’s path.
    “You need to have an honest assessment,” said Reese. “If it is a matter of light soot in the house, it may take only repeated and thorough house-keeping. But it will not go away tomorrow. The wind is going to blow it back in and it will be inconvenient,” he said.
    How much work that will need to be done is yet to be seen. Numerous disaster clean-up trucks from out of the area are parked in the south valley, advertising their services.
    “Smoke residue is a known carcinogen,” said Jeffrey Martin, a disaster recovery team worker with Servpro, which has trucks in Hailey.
    “The amount of rehabilitation will depend on the severity of damage, especially around windows and doors, where hotter air has driven smoke into the colder air in a building.”
    Martin said Servpro uses dry cleaning sponges to remove soot and ash from surfaces. Furniture and clothing can be cleaned either wet- or dry-cleaned, depending on the type of fabric,” he said.
    “We advise that people not use their own washing machines because soot can remain in the machines,” he said.
    Clearwater Landscaping maintenance manager Kirk McGee said he has not yet worked with clients who need to rehabilitate burned lawns and trees, but he is prepared in case they call.
    “As far as lawns are concerned, it will be the same principle as rehabilitating dormant lawns that have not been watered for over a year,” said McGee.
    “Grass within an irrigated area will likely re-grow if it is watered, but without looking at the condition of roots we will not know. It will depend on whether the site was irrigated, how far away the fire was, and how long the fire burned,” he said.
    “As far as trees and shrubs, it will depend on the severity of the scorch,” McGee said.
    McGee said U.S. Forest Service employees are already re-seeding bulldozer lines and hand lines that were cut across hillsides in the valley to stop the fire.
Tony Evans:

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