Team Rubicon Tackles Wildfire Mitigation in Kennewick, Washington

Team Rubicon leads fire mitigation efforts in Kennewick, Washington, removing burnable materials from a 68-acre park to reduce wildfire risk. The project aims to minimize the area's potential fire load and promote fire-resilient practices among residents.

Bijay Laxmi
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Team Rubicon Tackles Wildfire Mitigation in Kennewick, Washington

Team Rubicon Tackles Wildfire Mitigation in Kennewick, Washington

Kennewick, Washington, a city facing a higher wildfire risk than 92.3% of U.S. communities, is the focus of critical fire mitigation efforts led by nonprofit organization Team Rubicon. In the wake of devastating fires in Medical Lake and Zintel Canyon, the group has been working to reduce the area's potential fire load by removing burnable materials, including standing trees and brush, in a 68-acre park in Zintel Canyon.

Why this matters: The increasing threat of wildfires in urban-wildland interfaces poses a significant risk to lives and property, and proactive mitigation efforts like Team Rubicon's can help reduce the likelihood of devastating fires. As the wildlife-urban interface continues to grow, it is essential to prioritize fire mitigation and resilience strategies to protect communities nationwide.

Earlier this month, a crew of about 30 volunteers, power, efforts, cities, comprising veterans and non-veterans, worked on the extensive fire mitigation project in Zintel Canyon. The goal is to minimize the area's potential fire load by eliminating burnable materials that can contribute to wildfire spread. Karl Kaiyala, a 72-year-old retired University of Washington researcher and instructor, and Team Rubicon volunteer, emphasizes the importance of fire mitigation, stating, "I think fire mitigation is one of the most important components of reducing fire risk."

Kennewick has battled numerous fires within or just outside city limits over the past six years, including the Bofer Canyon Fire in 2018, which destroyed several homes and vehicles. According to U.S. Forest Service data, Kennewick has a higher wildfire risk than 92.3% of communities nationwide. Kennewick Fire Department Chief Chad Michael highlights the increased risk when houses overlap with vegetation, stating, "When houses overlap with vegetation, the risk of human-caused wildfires increases, and so does the threat to lives and property."

Team Rubicon, founded by U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jake Wood, has grown from a small group of seven volunteers to over 160,000 working nationwide and internationally. In the past 16 months, the organization has dispatched volunteers in nearly 24 wildfire mitigation efforts throughout the U.S., including the recent project at Zintel Canyon. This project was more extensive than previous efforts, with nearly double the number of volunteers and a longer time spent on-site—10 days compared to the usual three.

The growing concern of wildfires at the interface between wildlands and urban areas is a pressing issue, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimating that 46 million residences in 70,000 communities are at risk. The wildlife-urban interface grows about two million acres a year, according to FEMA. Logs and woodchips from the Zintel Canyon operation are made available to the public, and the partnership between Team Rubicon and the city of Kennewick's fire, police, and parks and recreation departments aims to promote ways residents can make their homes more resilient against fires.

As Kennewick continues to face a higher-than-average wildfire risk, the collaborative efforts of Team Rubicon and local authorities in conducting extensive fire mitigation projects serve as a proactive approach to reducing the threat of wildfires. By removing burnable materials and promoting fire-resilient practices among residents, the city aims to minimize the potential for devastating fires like those experienced in recent years.

Key Takeaways

  • Kennewick, WA has a higher wildfire risk than 92.3% of US communities.
  • Team Rubicon's fire mitigation efforts aim to reduce fire load in Zintel Canyon.
  • Removing burnable materials can minimize wildfire spread and risk.
  • Wildland-urban interface grows 2 million acres/year, increasing fire risk.
  • Proactive mitigation efforts can reduce likelihood of devastating fires.