If you live in an area prone to wildfires, it’s important to ensure that your home is protected. Most homeowners think there isn’t much they can do. While you can’t always keep the flames from getting close, there are ways to prevent radiant heat and smoke damage from occurring.
It’s always best to be aware of the dangers and have the confidence to protect your family and your home. Since wildfires happen more frequently than you may imagine, it’s better to think about these concerns now so that you stay safe during one.
You’re here to reading this, so you’ve got the opportunity to learn and take responsibility. Others may need this information, too, so feel free to share this information; you never know who might require it.
Home Safety Tips Before the Wildfire
There are plenty of tips you can use before the wildfire hits that can protect your home and family. These include:
Make sure that you’ve got various ways to receive emergency notifications about the wildfires. You need to know where they’re at currently and the path they are likely to travel. Consider downloading the FEMA app to your smartphone to get real-time alerts from the NWS (National Weather Service). It’s possible to set up five different locations.
Your neighborhood or community might have community alerts. These are especially helpful because you get information regarding your specific area. The Emergency Alert System is also there to provide you with notifications, and you don’t have to sign up for them. As they become available, they are sent to your smartphone and available on local news station channels.
Air quality alerts are also available from your local news source. Make sure you pay attention to them and heed what they say. It’s best to stay inside so that you don’t breathe in the smoke and inhale ashes when/if the fires get close to you.
Evacuation Plan and Tips
There’s only so much that you can do for your house. At some point, you could be asked to leave the home for safety reasons. It’s best to listen to any evacuation orders and heed them.
However, you’ve got to make sure that everyone knows what to do if an emergency action plan goes into place. This should include any livestock, large animals, and pets. Consider packing a duffel bag for each person in the home. Make sure it has bottles of water, clothing, and extra medication. That way, you can grab important things and go quickly if you find that the wildfires start getting closer, and you’ve got to leave.
Make sure you know at least two different ways to get out of the neighborhood. If you and the rest of the family are separated when the evacuation happens, agree to meet at a particular place.
You do not have to wait for an evacuation order. If you don’t feel that it’s unsafe to stay, go ahead and leave.
Inside the House
You should consider creating a home inventory list. Make it as comprehensive as you can so that you can quickly settle your claim. This list should have everything, including appliances, toys, utensils, and whatever else is in the home.
Focus first on expensive items and rare things. Then, work your way to the everyday items, such as the kitchen table. Here are some tips to make it easier:
- Pick a single area of the home to record at one time.
- Update the list anytime you buy something new.
- Don’t forget the basement, garage, attic, or detached structures.
- Take photos of everything in every room. Alternatively, use your video recorder on your phone to capture everything at once. You can describe the contents as you get to them.
- You can find online apps that help you create your inventory and store it for you.
Outside the House
It’s best to use Class A fire-rated products for your roof. These include composite shingles and tiles made of concrete, clay, or metal.
You should also consider boxing in the eaves, but make sure there’s proper ventilation so that mildew and condensation don’t occur.
Fire-resistant siding is often best for your home. This includes stucco, plaster, fiber-cement, and brick.
Windows are especially prone to breakage from radiant heat. Make sure you’re using dual-pane (double-hung) windows made of tempered glass for the best results.
Consider having an outdoor water source, such as a spigot. Purchase a hose that reaches all parts of the property. That way, if the radiant heat gets to be too much, you can spray down the home and vegetation so that it doesn’t burn as quickly.
Designate a single room in the house that can stay closed off from the outside air. Close every window and door. You can also buy a portable air cleaner to keep the indoor pollution levels lower in smoky conditions.
Keep pets inside as much as you can. When they have to go outside, wet their paws to protect from any ground radiant heat. Focus on buying plenty of pet supplies (food, medications), and keep some in your vehicle and some in the house. This way, if you have to leave quickly, you’ve got enough pet food.
Home and Property Preparation
The primary threat to your home is from small flames/fires popping up nearby and embers floating on the breeze that lands on your house. This is the primary reason why homes outside of the wildfire zone ignite.
An ember is a burning piece of vegetation or wood that becomes airborne. Sometimes, it can be carried over a mile away from the actual fire location from the wind. It then ignites debris, homes, or objects around the place.
Home Ignition Zone
The home ignition zone is the area around the house that leads to it catching fire and has three different regions.
First, you have the immediate zone, which is the area up to 5 feet away from the house. This is where most of your preparedness training comes into play because it’s highly vulnerable to embers. Make sure you begin preparing the home itself and then focus on landscaping.
If you’re building a new house in a wildfire-prone area, make sure that you’re using fire-resistant materials to build it. Limit how much vegetation is near to the house and 100 feet away. These things burn easily from radiant heat or embers, and you don’t want to risk your home to have pretty plants around you.
Other things to do here include:
- Remove dead leaves, pine needles, and debris from the gutters and roof. They could all catch fire from embers or burst into flames from radiant heat.
- Repair and replace missing roof tiles or shingles. This prevents embers from penetrating the roof’s surface and getting into the attic or home.
- Use 1/8-inch metal mesh screens on all the outside vents. This reduces the risk of embers passing through the vents and getting into the eaves.
- Remove debris from all vents in the attic and around the home. It could catch fire, which then gets sucked into the house.
- Replace or repair damaged window screens and broken windows. Also, consider boxing or screening in the areas below your deck and patio with some wire mesh so that debris can’t accumulate underneath. This also keeps combustible materials away from the house’s foundation.
- Move flammable materials from the exterior of the house. This includes leaves, pine needles, mulch, firewood, and flammable plants. If it can burn, don’t let it be within 5 feet of the foundation. Don’t keep anything stored beneath your porch or deck, either.
- Clean out all the leaves and consider killing the grass there so that nothing can burn.
The intermediate zone is anywhere from 5 to 30 feet away from the exterior of the house. Try to keep trees in this or the areas further away. Make sure the treetops of any groups have 18 feet or more between them for the best results.
It’s best to use landscaping breaks here to help decrease the risk of fire and influence its behavior. For example, you may consider having a stone fence-like structure all around the home about 5 to 10 feet away. That way, the fire has to go through this first, causing a deterrent.
For this zone, you should also:
- Make sure that stationary propane tanks have no vegetation under them.
- Create as many fuel breaks as possible. Use decks, patios, walkways, and driveways, as well as stone (or other fuel-resistant materials) as low fences.
- When mowing, keep the lawn and native grasses at 4 inches high. This provides some protection because tall grasses can’t erupt and spread as fast.
- Remove any ladder fuels, so the surface fire doesn’t reach the crown of the trees. Ladder fuels include anything planted under trees that can cause the fire to rise through the trunk. Prune your trees up to 10 feet from the ground so that the surface fire can’t easily reach it and move up the tree and potentially to your home. Shorter trees should be pruned to roughly 1/3 of their overall height.
- Space your trees in such a way that you have 18 feet between the crowns. This distance should increase on any slopes.
- Carefully plan your tree placement. Ensure that mature canopies aren’t closer than 10 feet to the edge of your structure.
- Any shrubs and trees within this zone should be limited and have small clusters to help break up the vegetation’s continuity within the landscape.
The extended zone is anywhere from 30 to 200 feet away. Your landscaping can help to interrupt the fire’s path, though it isn’t likely to eliminate it completely. However, this does ensure that the flames stay smaller and remain on the ground.
To help with this, you can:
- Remove any dead tree and plant material. There’s less for the fire to consume if you get rid of it as it falls.
- Dispose of ground debris and litter. This includes any fallen leaves, branches, twigs, and grass clippings.
- Remove any small conifers that are growing between more mature trees. Large groups can cause the fire to spread more quickly.
- Get rid of any vegetation close to outbuildings and storage sheds between 30 and 100 feet away from the home.
- Trees that are 30 to 60 feet from your house should have 12 or more feet between the tops of the crowns. Those that are between 60 and 100 feet away should give 6+ feet between their canopy tops.
Landscaping and Maintenance
Earlier, you learned where to place vegetation and trees. Other landscaping and maintenance tips include:
- It’s a good idea to trim the tree branches that are close to your porch, home, and deck. Remove those that hang over these areas.
- You should also remove any plants that contain wax, oil, or resin. They can catch fire more easily and cause it to spread faster.
- Mulch shouldn’t be used near the foundation of your home. If you’ve got plants in the immediate zone, consider using crushed gravel or stone as mulch here.
Emergency Responder Access
If the wildfires do come close to your home, emergency responders, such as firefighters, are sure to be seen around the area. Make sure that the neighborhood has clearly-marked and legible street names/numbers. The roads should be clear and easily accessible so that fire trucks can get through the town and on to the wildfire area to help.
Consider upgrading your driveway so that it’s 12 feet wide and is at least 15 feet long. That way, emergency vehicles can easily access your property to fight the fire. This also gives the drivers a way to turn around if necessary.
Disaster Emergency Kit
Create a disaster emergency kit that can be grabbed in a hurry. It must include appropriate items, such as:
- Medications – Have a two-week supply of prescriptions, OTC medications you normally take, medical equipment, etc.
- First aid kit
- Power cords (for phones)
- Important documents – can be electronic copies
- Food and water – enough for a month in case you cannot leave the house to go to the store
- Food and water – enough for two weeks in the vehicle you plan to use for evacuation
- N95 mask to prevent smoke inhalation
While the home itself needs to be as fire-safe as possible, there may be no way to save it. Therefore, you should ensure that your homeowner’s insurance policy is updated and paid in full. That way, you can repair the house if there isn’t too much damage. Otherwise, it covers the purchase of a new place.
Home Safety Tips During the Wildfire
During a wildfire, there are things you can do to prepare and stay safe. These include:
- Keep your cell phone charged for receiving alerts.
- Buy back-up chargers.
- Watch for any emergency notifications and alerts and heed all instructions.
- Stay inside during smoky conditions if you’re not required to evacuate.
- Consider health symptoms, such as COPD, asthma, or heart disease. These people and pregnant women should be very careful in smoky conditions.
Home Safety Tips After the Wildfire
If you were required to leave the house during the wildfire, you shouldn’t return until it’s safe. Listen for alerts and communicate with local authorities to find out when this is possible.
Always avoid charred trees, hot ash, live embers, and smoldering debris. You may not see it, but the ground could be full of heat pockets, which can spark new fires and burn you badly.
You’re probably going to have to clean up around and inside the house. Make sure you’re wearing protective clothing, such as long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Wear a face-covering/mask, work gloves, and thick-soled, closed-toed shoes. Respirators may also be required.
Don’t let the kids help you clean up the home. Leave them with a trusted adult while you remove ash and get the house habitable again. During the clean-up process, document any damages with photos. Conduct your inventory and talk to the insurance company as soon as you can to start a claim.
If you plan to be at home cleaning for many days, let others know where you are. Send text messages often or use social media outlets if you can’t get through on the phone. Phone systems are usually busy immediately after a disaster has struck.
Preparing your house and yourself for a wildfire can seem daunting and scary, but it’s essential to know what to do and protect your home as best you can. Make sure you think about the pets and listen to the authorities when they tell you to leave.
Consider preparing the house before an emergency strikes for the best results. When a wildfire pops up near you, it’s easier to keep the fire at bay. Though you may want to stay and fight, it’s best to evacuate when you’re told. Things can be replaced, but pets and people can’t.
Never hide from danger, but don’t go looking for it. Be conscious that it exists and stay together to defend yourselves, as there’s safety in numbers. Print this out and share it with others so that you all know how to confront and protect against the wildfire threat.