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Officials say the difference between a surviving house and total destruction is all in the details, from keeping a tidy yard to placing screens over attic vents. In fact, current research shows keeping a house safe during a wildfire is less about stopping a forest fire and more to do with minor modifications and regular maintenance on your property. As it turns out, luck really does favor the prepared.
First things first: research suggests a majority of homes that ignite during a forest fire are caused by a embers or small flames. Because of this, the Forest Service has outlined the concept of a “home ignition zone” that shows how homes ignite divided into three sections. The “extended zone” stretches 30 to 100 feet from the home, the “intermediate zone” 5 to 100 feet, and the “immediate zone” 0 to 5 feet.
The “immediate zone” is made up of non-combustible materials and is the most vulnerable part of the home. Start fireproofing with the home itself and move outwards. For starters, clean your roof and gutters of dead leaves, debris, and pine needles that could catch embers and be sure to replace or repair loose and missing shingles. You can limit the amount of embers that may pass through vents in the eaves and attic by installing 1/8 inch metal mesh screening. Next, move any flammable materials – such as mulch, plants, leaves, needles, and firewood piles – away from the exterior walls of your home, as well as anything stored underneath porches.
In the “intermediate zone”, focus the work on landscaping to create breaks that can change the path and behavior of fires. You can create fuel breaks around your property by utilizing driveways, walkways, and pathways. Be sure to clear vegetation and keep your grass mowed to a height of four inches. Even the distance of your trees is an important factor to proofing your home against potential fires. Trees should have a minimum of eighteen feet between their crowns to prevent a fire from jumping. The mature canopy should be no closer than 10 feet to the edge of any buildings, while shrubs in the area should be limited to small clusters that break up vegetation.
Reaching out as much as 200 feet from your home, the “extended zone” is meant to interrupt the fire’s path rather than eliminate it. Again, start with removing all dead plants and trees as well as any conifers growing between mature trees. Trees between 30 and 60 feet from your home should have at least 12 feet between the treetops while those 60 to 100 feet away should have at least six feet between them.
Unfortunately, even under the most prepared circumstances wildfires still happen. Should your home fall under a wildfire, officials say having a Wildfire Action Plan is the best way to keep members of your family safe and accounted for. Have an emergency meeting place outside of the fire area with several escape routes from your home outlined. Pets are family too—be sure to have an evacuation plan for any animals, including livestock. Amidst all of this, be sure to create a family communication plan that serves as a phone tree between family members in case you get separated.
In the case of any natural disaster, it is important to have an emergency supply kit ready and available at a moment’s notice. This includes at least three days’ worth of non-perishable food and three gallons of water per person, all medications, extra set of keys and cash, first aid kit, flashlights, battery-powered radio, and copies of all important documents (birth certificates, passports, etc.).