Every year thousands of wildfires burn millions of acres across the United States. It is only a matter of time that a wildfire may threaten your community. Wildfire fighters concentrate on removing and containing forest fires. They may not be able to attend to homes as well. The burden falls on home owners. Every home owner should do their part to help protect the community. A fire adapted community will be better able to reduce your risk during the next wildfire.
Dr. Jack Cohen, Fire Science Researcher with the USDA Forest Service, explains that flames 100 ft away from house can’t ignite a house and there are things home owners can do to help minimize fire ignition.
- Look around your house for potential igniters. Little things are what are destroying houses – firebrands or embers. In order for them to ignite a house, they have to ignite it directly or something around the house that can then spread to the house. Look for where dried leaves and pine needles are piled up around your house, i.e., mulch around the house in flower beds, in the gutters and on the roof. This is where the firebrands are. They burn with low intensity but can be critical factors to starting home fires.
- Look at the roof and it’s components. The most flammable roofs are constructed of wooden shingles. Firebrands landing on the roof can easily ignite the structure. Find safer, less flammable, composition roofing shingles.
- Vents can allow embers into attic. Add a finer mesh screen. Don’t need to have a metal roof to survive a fire.
- Fiber cement siding is also non-flammable. Out buildings can also ignite. Be concerned with surroundings of them as well.
- Flammable deck furniture, brooms left out can also ignite and if they’re left close to house they can ignite it.
- To avoid flame contact burning across your house make sure all dead wood is removed at least 5 feet from house.
The National Weather Service issues fire weather watches (issued when conditions will be present within 12-72 hours) or warnings (also known as red flag days when the conditions will be present within 24 hours) are issued when weather conditions will support increased wildfire activity and rapid fire growth.
Take steps ahead of time to prepare and put your plan into action:
- Complete a home inventory – this will assist in talking with your insurance provider should you suffer a loss due to a wildfire. Consider making a video walk-through of your possessions and keep that in a safe off-site location.
- Sign up for local Emergency Notifications/Alerts
- Have an Evacuation plan and a designated meeting place where family members will reconnect after the evacuation. Ensure everyone in the household knows the plan and meeting place location.
- Know where evacuation centers will be located in your community.
- Have an off-site phone number where family members can check in and provide status information
- Have a plan and supplies for your pets/animals
During Watches or warnings do the following:
- Make sure you have 72 hour supply of important medications in your go-bag
- Know which personal items have been prioritized to take if time permits when evacuation is necessary
- Remove deck/patio furniture, cushions, and door mats to prevent ember ignitions
- Remove portable propane tanks from deck or patio
- Know how to turn off the gas to your home
- Place a ladder against the house (for Fire Department use)
- Connect garden hoses to outdoor spigots (for Fire Department use)
- Make sure windows, doors, and garage doors are closed
- Make sure windows are closed on vehicles that will remain at the residence while you’re evacuated
When returning home:
- Even if your home survived the fire, there may be a need to clean-up and restore your property from fire retardant, damaged trees or smoke damage.
- Check your local Office of Emergency Management for information on resources for down/damaged trees and power lines.
- Notify your local Health Department if retardant is in ponds, streams or near wells.
- Contact your Insurance Agent for assistance with restoration from retardant or smoke/fire damage to your structure.
Billie Nicholson, Editor