It seems that hardly a day goes by without reports of a devastating wildfire burning somewhere around us. From rural acreage to crowded suburbs, living anywhere on the edge of a potential wildfire zone can put you, your home and your family at risk. To minimize the dangers from a hot, fast-moving wildfire, there are several practical, straightforward things you can do to protect your home.
ESTABLISH A DEFENSIBLE SPACE
To improve the odds of your home making it through a wildfire, you need to establish a defensible space around your house that makes it harder for a fire to start or become established. That space should extend out a minimum of 30 feet from your house in every direction, and it should be well planned and continually maintained.
- Use fire-resistant landscaping: Within the 30-foot zone, use fire-resistant landscaping such as lawns, moist ground-cover plantings and low shrubbery. Avoid plants that are naturally dry and highly flammable.
- Trim trees: First, remove all dead trees from within your zone. Thin the remaining trees in the zone so that they’re no less than 10 feet apart, which helps prevent the spread of a fire from tree to tree. Finally, all remaining trees need to be limbed to a height of at least 6 feet off the ground, which removes “ladder fuel” and helps prevent a ground fire from spreading up into the trees.
- Move combustibles: Another important element of the noncombustible, 30-foot zone is to move combustible materials away from the house. This includes firewood, scrap lumber, flammable liquids such as gas cans, and other materials that could potentially feed a fire.
- Trim weeds: Keep the weeds and vegetation around your home trimmed to less that 4 inches high. Also, keep weeds and dry grass at least 10 feet away from where you store your firewood, as well as away from any debris piles.
- Clean the roof and the yard: Rake up needles and leaves from your yard, and remove them from your roof. Cut back overhanging limbs, and keep your gutters clear as well. Consider recycling or composting yard debris rather than burning it.
- Use fire-safe roofing: In a wildfire situation, the single most vulnerable part of your home is the roof. Wind-blown embers landing on a dry wood roof can ignite it in seconds, and spread quickly. Whether you’re building a new home or re-roofing your existing one, make use of fire-resistant or fire-treated roofing materials. Also, be sure your chimney or wood stove flue has a spark arrestor, and check its condition at least once a year.
PROTECT YOUR FAMILY
You also need to make certain that your family knows what to do in the event of a fire or the need to evacuate.
- Establish a firm evacuation plan: All family members should know what to do and where to assemble in the event of an evacuation, including rounding up and caring for pets.
- Know what to take: Gather your valuable papers and irreplaceable family items such as photo albums in a convenient location so as to minimize your time and risk in the event you need to evacuate your home. Transfer important documents from your computer onto easily portable storage media, such as a USB flash drive. Have enough prescription medicine readily available to last a minimum of 72 hours.
HELP EMERGENCY CREWS
Now take a moment to look at your home from the eye of a firefighter or other emergency crew that needs to get to you.
- Mark your address: Would someone who doesn’t know your home be able to find it quickly in an emergency? Is your address clearly marked and clearly visible from a distance? Can it been seen at night?
- Check your property’s access: Can fire trucks and emergency vehicles easily access your property? Is there anything that blocks your road or driveway, or makes it potentially difficult to turn around?
A wildfire may seem like a remote possibility, but every year hundreds of homes and other structures are destroyed, so it really pays to be prepared. Take a little time this weekend to look around the inside and the outside of your house, and make plans now to turn your home into a safe and fire-resistant zone.
Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.