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August 20, 2020

How to prepare for wildfires

Why are wildfires more dangerous now than ever before? More people are living in the “Urban-Wildland Interface”, or UWI. It grows larger every year and it’s where most wildfire fatalities occur. The UWI is the area where new subdivisions, new mobile home parks, and new houses are built in grassy or forested places that up until now were often left open and unused, in part because they had a history of catching fire.

What Causes Wildfires?

As populations grow, communities expand, and they often spread into areas that pose a fire danger from grass, shrub brush and trees. Hotter, drier summers make fires more difficult to put out, and the increasing number of homes destroyed in the UWI means the world is seeing more billion-dollar fire disasters than ever before.

How to Prepare for Wildfires

Do you live in an area prone to wildfire? Could a wind-blown grass fire or a forest fire ever threaten your home? If so, realize you are not helpless. Firefighters will try to save your home when a fire is burning, but there are things you can do right now to increase your home’s chances of survival. Here are six things you can do to make your home wildfire resistant:

1. Understand Your Wildfire Risk

Fire season occurs when vegetation dries out. Especially in a drought, every plant around your home could potentially catch fire. How close are the shrubs to the side of your house? If the trees in your yard catch fire, will they ignite your home? Did you cover your landscaping in flammable mulch, or unburnable rock? Create and maintain 100 feet of defensible space around your home.  You’ll need it.

2. Prepare Your Home

In the US, most of the homes at risk of fire have already been built. But instead of waiting for your home to be destroyed by fire and then rebuilding, it is much cheaper to invest in retro-fits that will protect your home now. Vents and soffits can be improved so they prevent embers from entering your attic. Tempered glass windows resist breakage, keeping fire out. Decks can be rebuilt with non-combustible material. Keep your rain gutters cleared of dead leaves.

Avoid flammable plants around the home

3. Keep Flammable Plants Away from Home

As a general rule, bushes and trees that give off a strong scent are highly combustible. I heard one California emergency manager refer to Eucalyptus trees as “Roman candles” because when these aromatic and highly combustible trees burn, they literally explode, sending sparks hundreds of feet away. Other highly flammable plants that should be nowhere near your home include acacia, bamboo, cypress, fir and cedar.

4. Avoid Flammable Building Materials

Don’t build houses that are destined to burn; build smarter. Instead of flammable roofing materials, top your home with roofing that is fire resistant or fireproof. Concrete, brick and stucco walls resist fire better than wood or plastic siding. If you build a private driveway, is it wide enough for a fire truck, and are the trees trimmed back to allow that truck to get to your burning home? If you have a swimming pool, do you have a pump that would allow you to use that water for firefighting?

5. Maintain Your Distance

In mobile home parks, maintain distance between dwellings and keep a garden hose long enough to reach all areas of your home and your landscaping. Flammable wooden fencing should be forbidden by management.

6. Be Prepared

Create a fire go-kit that you can “grab-and-git” when told to do so. Have a NOAA Weather Radio or Emergency Radio so you’ll receive Wildfire Warnings, evacuation notices and other life-saving bulletins. Consider getting some GMRS walkie-talkies so your family and your neighbors can communicate during a wildfire crisis. In the aftermath of California’s deadly Camp Fire, here’s how one woman improved the warning and evacuation process:


It's Up to You

An exceptionally wet rainy season this year sets you up for a bad fire season next year, when all that lush vegetation finally dries out. Fire seasons regularly come and go, but the fire preparedness season never ends. Take it upon yourself to get educated about what you CAN do, and then take on one task at a time to make your home more wildfire resistant.

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