Access to your home affects how easily firefighters can find and reach your home. Your local fire department may know where your house is, but assisting departments won't easily find your home if your address is not visible from the road. Start with clear signage.
In mid-summer, when vegetation is fully leaved, go to the street and see if you can read your address. If you can't, you may need to move the sign or make it bigger. Remember that at times smoke or darkness may make it harder to see your address.
Once firefighters find your home, they need to be able to get to it. If your driveway is less than 150 feet long, firefighters can reach your home from the street. Your driveway should be at least 12 feet wide and be clear of branches 14 feet up. Longer driveways need to be 20 feet wide. The driveway should also have a firm, all-weather surface and any bridges or culverts should be rated to 10,000 pounds. Curves in long driveways need to be gentle to accommodate large emergency vehicles. Long driveways also need a turnaround near the house. Without a good access, and escape route, firefighters will not endanger themselves to save your home.
Widen your driveway to at least 12 feet, and prune overhanging branches to a height of 14 feet. If your driveway is longer than 150 feet, widen it to 20 feet. Also make sure your driveway has a solid driving surface and all culverts and bridges can accommodate heavy fire trucks.
If your driveway is over 150 feet long, make sure there is a large turnaround near the house. The turnaround radius should be at least 30 feet.
In rural areas, fire departments are seriously understaffed for handling large wildfires with hundreds of homes at risk. Your home may need to stand without firefighter protection. How your home is situated on the lot will determine whether it can survive alone and also whether firefighters can defend it. The critical area is the thirty feet directly surrounding your home. This is called the home defensible zone.
Outbuildings within those thirty feet means that the home defensible zone needs to be extended thirty feet beyond those buildings. Inside the home defensible zone, anything flammable needs to be removed or modified.
Look at the trees. If your trees are predominantly highly flammable evergreens, a ten-foot minimum space between the crowns (branches of adjacent trees) should be maintained. This distance keeps fire from jumping through the crowns. Be sure to maintain this distance from tree to house. You may need to remove a few trees.
Look at the vertical arrangement of the vegetation. Is there continuous fuel (grass, leaves, branches) reaching from the ground to the crowns of the trees? This is called ladder fuel because it provides a "ladder" for fire to climb from the ground to the crown. Eliminate this ladder fuel by mowing tall grass, trimming shrubs and pruning the lower branches off trees up six to ten feet.
Relocate the firewood pile conveniently placed by the back door to outside the home defensible zone by March each year. Sparks from a wildfire can easily catch in firewood piles, and the intense heat of those burning piles next to the house will catch the house on fire.
Each spring clean leaf and needle fall that accumulates in foundation plantings, next to buildings and under decks. Take special care to clean out dead leaves from arborvitae next to buildings. Better yet, replace the arborvitae with leafy plants.
Use rock and stone landscaping materials next to buildings.
Clean up the home defensible zone. Remove old cars, lumber piles, downed trees and other debris. Is there enough space for firefighters to protect the backside of the home? Remove obstructing debris and trees and make sure fences have easily accessible gates.
Keep the lawn watered and mowed short (3 inches or less) on all sides of all buildings. A short, green lawn will not carry fire.
Clear a 10-foot space around propane tanks. Keep this space in gravel, rock or short, well-watered grass. Propane tanks should be located at least 10 feet from the home.
Beyond the thirty-foot home defensible space, examine the woods one hundred feet beyond your home. Reducing fuels in this area will reduce the intensity of an approaching wildfire. Trees might need thinning (some may need to be removed) to increase their spacing. This is especially important for evergreens, which typically have been planted or naturally seed at high densities. Pruning the remaining trees up six to ten feet and reducing underbrush can also help reduce wildfire intensity.
Remove enough evergreen trees in the 100 feet perimeter of the house, so their branches are at least 10 feet apart. Prune the lower branches of the remaining evergreens up six to ten feet, but no more than 1/3 of the total live crown.
Most of the home modifications needed to further reduce wildfire risk can be expensive. They include re-siding with brick, stone, stucco or steel, replacing shake roofing with class A shingles or steel, and enclosing foundations with steel or masonry. Some less expensive modifications can be made to other parts of the home.
When updating your home, consider less flammable materials such as brick, stone and metal for roofing and siding.
Does the fireplace chimney have an effective spark arrestor? Inspect your chimney annually for cracks in the brick and liner. Clean fireplace and wood stove chimneys at least twice a year.
Clean the roof and of leaves, needles and other debris each spring. Also clean accumulations of leaves from windowsills.
Make sure the soffits are enclosed with a solid barrier and that vents are screened with a fine mesh to keep out flying embers.
Radiant heat from a large wildfire can actually ignite sheer curtains inside of homes through large glass windows. Consider closeable shutters for large windows.
Enclose foundations of homes, outbuildings and trailers, plus decks and overhangs with solid flame-resistant sheeting to keep spark from igniting materials underneath.
Make sure you have smoke detectors on each floor of your home and check them each fall to make sure they work.
Burning Practices & Other Fire Hazards - The burning practices of you and your neighbors can contribute to the risk of home loss from wildfire.
If you burn leaves and debris, consider alternatives like composting.
Make sure recreational fires are made in a fire-safe pit or container and completely extinguished before leaving. Before lighting any outdoor fire, check for local restrictions and permit requirements. Avoid lighting fires when high winds, high temperatures and low humidities are present or predicted.
Do not dispose of ashes until they are cold to the touch.
Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans. Keep those safety cans in a fire-resistant metal or brick building or your garage.
Are there any branches close to power lines on your property? Ask the power company to clear them.
Make sure motorized garden equipment, such as lawnmowers and chainsaws have approved and functioning spark arrestors.
Last modified: Tuesday, 25-Nov-2014 12:16:14 EST