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Protect Your Home from Wildfires
In 2018, Wildfires in California alone caused more than $3.5 billion worth of damage. The Camp Fire of November 2018 destroyed more than 10,000 buildings. It was responsible for 88 fatalities. In fact, the 2018 wildfire season was the most destructive in Californian History. Although it was the Californian wildfires that made worldwide news, knowing how to protect your home from wildfires will be useful for people in many states. The top five states most at risk are California, Texas, Nevada, Washington, and Kansas. Apart from the states in the North Eastern corner of the country, there is a high risk of wildfires in most other states of the U.S. as well. So, if you live in a high-risk area, what can you do to protect your home from wildfires? Here’s some tips on the steps you can take to protect your home from wildfires. Here’s a map that shows the states where wildfires are most likely to occur:
Wildfire map courtesy of move.org
What Can You do to Prepare for the Next Wildfire Season?
Wildfires are becoming more common. That’s a result of several factors. These include forest management policies, climate change, and, in some cases, negligence. Experts in wildfires do say, though, that there are steps that people can take to protect their homes against wildfires.
The first thing to understand is that homes are often more likely to burn than the surrounding vegetation. It’s not uncommon to find burned out houses surrounded by green vegetation after a wildfire. When wildfires do jump from the forests to built-up areas, the results can be disastrous.
Fire needs fuel to burn. So, the aim of wildfire preparation is to limit the ability of your home to act as fuel for the fire. Even if the fire is some distance from your home, embers may still get blown onto the house and the surrounding vegetation.
Fireproof Your Roof
House fires caused by wildfires are often the result of embers landing on the roof. If the roof is flammable, then it can ignite. Then the fire could spread to the rest of the building. The simple solution to this is to make sure that your roof is not flammable. Materials such as metal, slate, tile or asphalt shingles are best. If you do have a wooden roof, it can be treated with a fire-retardant material. Or, there are rooftop sprinkler systems that you could install.
Keep the Roof and Gutters Clean
Another source of fuel for a fire is a build-up of debris in the gutters, like fallen leaves and pine needles. So, keep the roof and gutters clean of debris. It is also important to keep your roof in good repair. Loose or missing shingles or tiles could let embers ignite the wood underneath.
Keep Embers Out of the House
The inside of your home is full of flammable materials. So, keeping the embers out of your home is an essential part of how to protect your home from wildfires. For this reason. You should fix any broken windows and doors on the outside of your home. Look for any spaces through which embers could pass. You should also cover any ventilation openings with 1/8-inch wire mesh screening. Windows and skylights are another weak point on the house. If you can, replace your windows with tempered glass or double-paned glass. That will resist the heat of a wildfire for longer.
Create A Safe Inner Perimeter
The next step to protect your home against wildfires is to look at creating a five-foot perimeter around the house. This inner area should be free of any combustible materials. While this may sound like an obvious precaution, it’s easy to miss some of the potential dangers. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that stacks of firewood and propane tanks should be kept at least 30 feet from the house. Anything combustible that is stacked up against the house or close to it could be a danger, though. That includes organic mulch on planting beds, plants that contain resin, like pine and juniper, and dry grass and vegetation. If you do have plants near to the house, keep them well watered. Any wooden structure that adjoins the house also poses a fire risk. That includes decking and wooden fences. The NFPA recommends that you separate wooden fences from the property with a metal or stone barrier. If you have decking, keep it well-maintained and don’t allow vegetation to grow beneath it.
Create an Intermediate Defensible Space
If you live in an area prone to wildfires, the five-foot inner perimeter is only the beginning of the precautions you should take. You also need to consider the “home ignition zone”, which stretches 100 to 200 feet around your home.
The NFPA identifies the area between 5-30 feet around your home as the Intermediate zone. In this area, you should think about landscaping to protect your home from wildfires. You don’t need to clear the entire space. In fact, well-spaced vegetation can trap embers and stop them reaching your house. Between 5 and 30 feet from your home, you should take the following steps:
- Create firebreaks with paths, patios and driveways.
- Clear vegetation form underneath propane tanks
- Clear fallen leaves and branches from the ground
- Keep grass cut to a height of no more than four inches
- Keep trees well pruned
- Remove vegetation from the base of trees
- Ensure that the tops of trees are no closer than 10 feet from the house
- Keep trees and shrubs in small clusters with plenty of space in-between
- The treetops should be at least 18 feet apart
Create an Extended Defensible Space
For the extended zone around your home, which the NFPA says is up to 200 feet around the property, the aim is to keep wildfire on the ground and interrupt its path. You can do this by maintaining the area and landscaping it. The recommended steps to take in the extended defensible space are as follows:
- Remove small shrubs and trees growing between the large trees
- Keep the ground free of debris and litter
- Remove vegetation growing up against and around any outbuildings
- Keep the ground clear of dead leaves, pine needles and other dead plant material
- Between 30 and 60 feet from the house, keep a 12-foot gap between canopy tops
- Between 60 and 100 feet, keep a 6-foot gap between canopy tops
Work with Your Neighbors to Protect Your Home from Wildfires
Even if you are well-prepared for wildfires, your home will still be at risk if your neighbors aren’t taking the proper precautions. If you live in a densely populated area, the best way to protect your home from wildfires is to work as a community. To help organize your community and become more wildfire aware, the U.S. Forest Service has a program called Fire-adapted Communities. The NFPA operates a similar program called the Firewise Recognition Program.
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