ARTICLE

Disaster planning

A modern home is designed to defend against wildfires

The backyard of the Sands family’s Mazama home has a 500-pound steel firebox, views to forever and a path between tall grass leading directly to the Methow River. “The only drawback to this location is that not really until August can we use the river,” says homeowner Colin Sands. “There’s a lot of meltoff. But in mid-August, there’s still water and a deep swimming hole. Unless there’s bears. Black bears literally do backstrokes there.” (Steve Ringman/Seattle Times/TNS)
The backyard of the Sands family’s Mazama home has a 500-pound steel firebox, views to forever and a path between tall grass leading directly to the Methow River. “The only drawback to this location is that not really until August can we use the river,” says homeowner Colin Sands. “There’s a lot of meltoff. But in mid-August, there’s still water and a deep swimming hole. Unless there’s bears. Black bears literally do backstrokes there.” (Steve Ringman/Seattle Times/TNS)
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While scouting out the perfect getaway property, the Sands family searched high and low — throughout a particularly picturesque region beloved for both — before spotting the ultimate indicator near Mazama, Wash.

It wasn’t so much a “You Are Here” sign as a “You Should Be Here” one.

“On Highway 20, there’s a ‘State Recreation Site Next Left’ sign with 15 different types of recreation,” says Colin Sands. “Four activities across, four down. It’s the only sign in Washington with that many.”

It was an active search for one extraordinarily active family. And now the Sands family, from Conway, Skagit County (Colin and Alisa; their three kids: Dylan, 5; Maren, 8; and 10-year-old Aidan; and two pups measured by poundage: Fritz, a 90-pound lab, and Frodo, a 12-pound Boston terrier), has a fabulous home-away-from-home base for all-season relaxation and all sorts of recreation.

“We do a lot of mountain biking on the Methow Valley trail system,” says Sands. “We cross-country ski right out the back door. There’s a downhill skiing loop half an hour away.”

They go fat-tire biking. Fishing in the Methow River (aka the backyard). Snowmobiling, from the front door.

“We hike,” says Sands. “There’s a fire lookout on the top of the mountain; we do that four times a year. It’s 6,000 feet and 4 miles to the Goat Peak Lookout. When my son was 3 1/2, he did it.”

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That’s an active fire lookout, too, complete with fire-looker-outer “Lightning Bill,” who “is up there every summer,” Sands says. Mazama might be the scenic peak of Washington’s recreational range, but it’s also, vulnerably, prime wildfire country.

“Last September 1/820173/8, one of the largest forest fires was right here; there was ash raining on the other side of Goat Wall,” says Sands. “We’d come over quite a bit. We felt comfortable and safe.”

Credit Firewise USA design, and principal architect Dan Nelson, of Designs Northwest Architects, who beautifully incorporated the program into the Sands family’s rustically modern main home and complementary guesthouse, gently sited on 2.5 acres of mountain-shadowed meadow.

“It’s a pretty major issue all over the West,” Nelson says. Here, he says, it’s expressed through fire-rated metal roofing, noncombustible metal siding and steel support beams, double-pane tempered glass, berms of rock in the landscape (rather than combustible vegetation or large trees), concrete floors, slab-on-grade construction instead of a crawl space, and lots and lots of sprinklers.

“We can soak the entire house with irrigation,” said Sands. Plus: “Our homeowners insurance rates are reduced because of the design.”

Another highly important design driver: incorporating the buildings into their historic, former alfalfa-farm setting.

“This had been the Patterson homestead since the early 1900s, and we’re the first project on the conservatory,” said Sands. “We had to make sure whatever we did really blended in.”

Here, Nelson said, credit goes to the homes’ modern forms (“low-profile, low-pitched roofs”) and century-old influences.

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“We used real references to the vernacular of mining structures and farmhouses,” he says. “The rusted corrugated metal panels, rusticated wood and steel columns just fit the tonality of the trees, mountain and landscape.”

From the serene backyard — where some volunteer alfalfa still sprouts (though not along the well-traveled “deer highway” that 40 or so four-hoofed commuters take every morning and evening) — Nelson points out the rough locations of 10 or so other new, modern homes sprinkled among Mazama’s beckoning mountains and meadows and maximum recreation.

“It’s an architects’ playground,” says Sands.

An active family’s, too.

“This project was built for our family to grow,” he says. “Hopefully, one day it’ll be filled with kids and grandkids, and we can all be here at once.”

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