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Conservation Stories: Kathy & Sandy McKean

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Man with arm across a woman's shoulder in front of a wood chipper
Kathy & Sandy McKean in front of the roving wood chipper brought to their property through the Conservation District and DNR roving wood chipper project.

Smoky summers have become an all too familiar part of living in the Pacific Northwest. Over the past couple of decades, wildfires have been occurring more often with longer and longer seasons. The increasing risk of wildfires in Western Washington is due to multiple environmental and anthropogenic factors including increasing air temperature, decreasing summer rain, earlier snowmelt, and residential encroachment into forested areas with high wildfire risk. These factors add up to a higher potential for ignition and drier fuels and forests that are more receptive to ignition and spread of wildfire. In the face of this threat, communities and individuals across Whatcom and Skagit counties are partnering with their Conservation Districts to help reduce the risk of wildfire, and prepare their homes to survive a wildfire that may occur.

Two people loading sticks into the back of a wood chipper.
Washington Conservation Crew member putting limbs into the roving wood chipper.

The current regional Wildfire Risk Reduction Program provides a more efficient and collaborative approach to addressing wildfire risk across both counties. Conservation

District staff provide knowledge and resources to homeowners and communities to help understand their wildfire risk and feel empowered to take preparedness actions. Sandy and Kathy McKean are two homeowners that have joined their neighbors in the Holiday Hideaway community on Guemes Island in reducing their wildfire risk.

Sandy and Kathy became concerned with wildfire because they live in a heavily wooded area where a large fire would overwhelm the island’s fire department and other resources would be needed that may not be able to arrive promptly due to the ferry.

The McKeans became aware of the Conservation District’s services after a neighbor had reached out and began engaging in community-scale wildfire risk reduction. After having a free wildfire risk assessment with a Conservation District staff member, they realized that there were actions they could take on their property to reduce the risk.

“We did have several piles of dead limbs/branches from fir trees that wind storms had blown down. Those piles were drying out and could burn easily if ever ignited.” – Sandy
Smiling man holding tree limbs
Washington Conservation Crew member grabbing limbs piled up by a community member for the wood chipper.

They limbed trees and removed flammable plants from around their house. They also participated in the neighborhood chipping project. Chipping projects consist of a roving

wood chipper that comes through the neighborhood and turns all gathered dead limbs and sticks into wood chips. These events are free and organized with the Conservation District and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) when funding is available.

“This free chipping service is a no brainer. They were youthful, energetic, efficient, committed to their goal, and they were friendly….. fun even.” – Sandy

When asked if the chipping project was beneficial to the community, Sandy replied, “Without question.”

Woman standing in front of wood chipper
Jenny Coe, Community Wildfire Resilience Coordinator, in front of roving wood chipper.

Simple actions taken ahead of time, like removing dead limbs and branches or highly flammable plants can make a difference in reducing the risk of damage or destruction to a home. Addressing wildfire risk to your property doesn’t have to be done alone. You can reach out directly to the Conservation District for a free Wildfire Risk Assessment, or you can work with your community and the Conservation District to reduce your risk of wildfire.

Jenny Coe is the Community Wildfire Resilience Coordinator for Skagit and Whatcom Counties. You can contact her directly using her email ( or phone (360-526-2381 X106). Learn more about Whatcom & Skagit County Wildfire Risk Reduction on our websites.

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