I told our dog, “Serena, do you see all those people with clipboards walking around our yard? They’re looking for canine rooters, dogs who root around in tall grass looking for field mice until their noses are brown with dirt and their lips are raw. Could you be one of the dogs they’re looking for?”
Well, it was worth a try. Serena is going to lose all the hair on her muzzle if she doesn’t moderate her Spring obsession with rooting up newly active (and, sadly, probably newly born) rodents. Unfortunately, she didn’t seem to be wary of our clipboard-toting guests, appearing much more eager to give them a welcoming pounce than to promise them that she’d change her rooting ways.
Maybe she knew that they were State Farm Insurance agents who were finishing up a two-day training workshop put on by a fire safety consultant. An ex-neighbor who works for the Oregon Department of Forestry, Brian Ballou, suggested that we here in Spring Lake Estates are a good example of people living on the urban/rural interface who face wildfire risks every dry season.
I was happy to volunteer our house for some practice risk-assessing. In a burst of candidness I even blurted out to some of the participants that we have a State Farm homeowner’s policy. Hopefully it isn’t in the process of being cancelled at this very moment.
It was sort of strange to watch all the agents wandering around, pointing here and there at what I had to assume were fire safety strong points and weak points. I didn’t want to make more of a nuisance of myself than I already was with my ripe-for-the-weblog digital camera. Thus I tried to stay out of earshot so the agents could criticize our natural landscaping, which includes an oak tree hanging over a deck, as much as they wanted without hurting the owners’ feelings.
By the end of their visit I was reduced to lurking around inside our house, furtively snapping photos through windows, wondering what was being said at the final workshop conclave next to our carport.
Which took place just a few feet from stacks of firewood and kindling that we keep cozily dry under the carport eaves. This helps explain why, when Jim the workshop organizer rang our doorbell to thank us and say that they were leaving, and I anxiously said, “But first you have to tell us how we did!,” he demurred with a diplomatic, “Well, they thought you were moderately risky.”
Jim singled out the firewood as a problem, along with tall grass that I assured him got mowed in early July. He said that we just had a number of small problems, nothing major, which hopefully doesn’t include the overhanging oak—since we’d be most reluctant to cut it down. On the positive side, Jim said that a tree near a house actually can serve as a heat barrier if a wildfire approaches, just as the tall lilacs on another side of our house could. So vegetation growing near a building has some fire pluses as well as minuses.
State Farm was nice enough to give us a $10 Shell gift card. That will keep our Prius rolling for quite a while. Plus a nifty hardback book with some great photographs, “Firewise Communities: Where we live, how we live.”
The best gift, of course, will be not increasing our homeowner’s premium after we get an official wildfire safety assessment, which I assume is coming. Somehow I envision that moving a wood pile is in my destiny.