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A group of 41 grazing goats are helping protect one-third of an acre of property in the Hidden Valley area of Cle Elum from fire.

Tammy Dynakin owns the business Rent-A-Ruminant, which rents out goats to clear land. Throughout the week, her goats ate fire-prone brush, plants and tree limbs.

"Goats have been used for years to clear out areas in Southern California," she said on Thursday afternoon.

Dynakin and her goats traveled from Vashon Island, and arrived on Sunday at the Hidden Valley home owned by Joyce and Greg Callsvik.

PEMCO Insurance has partnered with Rent-A-Ruminant on other projects on the West Side, and this year they approached her about using the goats to try to protect a home from fire damage. Goats are able to access and clear land on steep hillsides and rough terrain and can go where people and machines cannot go safely.

"We said, 'Hey, maybe we can get some goats here and turn them loose on a steep hillside and let them munch,'" PEMCO spokesperson Jon Osterberg said. "I mentioned it to Russ (Hobbs, Fire District 7 Chief) and he said that was a great idea. … Russ thinks it's a legitimate way to actually reduce wildfire."

Dynakin said as soon as the wildfires happened last year, she thought of the need to get goats out to Eastern Washington land.

"My dad lives in Tonasket and we were worried," she said. "As soon as it happened, I said, 'They need to get goats in Eastern Washington to start doing prevention work,' because I know they've been doing this in Southern California for years. They literally bring in thousands of goats down there and clear property to help with fire prevention. It makes a huge impact."

Dynakin said the idea hasn't really caught on Washington as it has in California, but the fire issue is only getting worse so it makes sense to try it. She has plans to expand Rent-A-Ruminant by helping other interested people get into the business.

Prepping for a bad season

Carolyn Berglund, volunteer firefighter with Kittitas County Fire and Rescue District No. 7 said on Monday that this year is expected to be a bad fire season due to sustained warm weather and drought conditions.

"Basically anything that's in the wildland urban interface, we're worried about," she said. "We're really concerned about the people who are out in the woods and haven't firewised."

Firewise is a program from the National Fire Protection Association and public fire agencies designed to encourage and assist homeowners and communities to do more to protect homes and property from wildfire.

Berglund said there are smaller communities that are close together, but there are also spots with one or two cabins that are just as worrisome.

"We're concerned as a whole county," she said, adding that people need to get the word out to their neighbors. Some of the houses that don't have a fuel break are second homes or weekend homes.

Local fire districts have been working to provide homeowners with tips and strategies to protect their homes.

A wildfire preparedness day last week had between 125 to 150 people in attendance. Some came for specific presentations while others stayed the whole day.

"We have really good, interested homeowners in some of these communities, but it's getting the word out," Berglund said.

PEMCO poll

A recent poll by PEMCO Insurance asked 600 Washington residents and 600 Oregon residents about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues, including wildfires and preparing their homes for fire season.

The results of the poll found that at least one in three residents who live in the region’s most at-risk wildfire areas haven’t taken the necessary steps to fully protect their properties from wildfire.

“We asked Northwest residents what they thought were the most important steps for protecting their property from wildfire, and we were surprised that about one in three said they’ve either not started or haven’t fully finished some of the tasks that prevent fires from spreading from property to property,” Osterberg said in a news release.

The majority of residents polled (87 percent) share concern for the possibility of wildfires this summer, and one in five respondents (21 percent) believe there is a very real chance wildfire will directly impact their lives, according to the release.

Of the people polled, 39 percent said they haven’t taken the necessary precautions.

PEMCO Insurance partnered with Fire District No. 7 to have a live fire demonstration on Thursday afternoon. A property owner in the Swauk Prairie donated an old shed in the back of her property to the department for a live burn.

Firefighters took down a nearby fence and then lit the shed on fire. Within minutes the shed heated up and the trees surrounding the area caught fire. Firefighters were on hand to douse the trees and to keep the fire in check, but the demonstration showed just how quickly fire can spread.

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