Couple's defensible space saves their home from McKinley Fire
People might say Pete and Sandy Petram are lucky to still have a house. It's standing proudly, yet it is surrounded on all sides by charred trees and ashes after strong winds blew the McKinley Fire south.
The couple drove through flames as they escaped to the Parks Highway on Sunday. They returned several days later to find their property unscathed.
Firefighters say it's not just luck; the Petrams' property was designed for this exact scenario.
"We've thought about wildfires ever since the Miller's Reach fire in the 1990s." Pete said. His biggest takeaway from that time was to make sure to have plenty of defensible space — a term firefighters use to describe sections of land with little fuel for fire.
Determined not to be a victim of the next fire, the Petrams hired a man with a backhoe to clear every black spruce tree from the 20-acre property in 1997. Black spruce are sometimes referred to as gasoline or torches because of how easily they burn.
Having done this work more than 20 years ago made this week's evacuation a lot less stressful for Sandy.
"I was still optimistic," she said, describing the trip. "We worked real hard to keep greenery around the house."
Pete says he was still worried but held hope.
"I had faith that firefighters, knowing that if they have defensible space, they will look at that and say 'This is a place we can save.' And they will come in and they will fight like hell to save it."
The investment is defensible space was worth every penny to Pete.
"It was a significant relief to know that everything we had done had paid dividends."
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