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This year has brought one of the worst wildfire seasons in the western United States. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy reports that “as of Sept. 29 there have been 44,091 wildfires that have burned 7,468,335 acres this year. This is 1.3 million more acres burned than the 10-year average.” They also stated that “this year’s fires are above the total number of fires over the 10-year-average.” Over the past two years, wildfires have caused $25 billion in property damage and resulted in the deaths of over 100 people. It seems like each year wildfires devastate more and more communities across the country, and this year, especially, it’s hard to see so many displaced in the midst of a pandemic. There has never been a better time to have wildfire safety preparedness!

Preparing For Wildfires

The idea of a wildfire drawing near to your home probably makes you feel helpless and panicked, but there are things you can do to prepare your home that can make a difference to your home’s survival and that of your neighborhood in the event of a wildfire in your area. While some of these actions can take place once a wildfire is near, it is best to accomplish these tasks before a wildfire starts to best protect your home and the homes of those around you.

The National Fire Protection Association reports that “Research around home destruction vs. home survival in wildfires points to embers and small flames as the main way that the majority of homes ignite in wildfires. Embers are burning pieces of airborne wood and/or vegetation that can be carried more than a mile through the wind can cause spot fires and ignite homes, debris, and other objects.

There are methods for homeowners to prepare their homes to withstand ember attacks and minimize the likelihood of flames or surface fire touching the home or any attachments. Experiments, models and post-fire studies have shown homes ignite due to the condition of the home and everything around it, up to 200’ from the foundation. This is called the Home Ignition Zone (HIZ).”

The following tips are for wildfire safety preparedness and help prevent ignition of your home during a wildfire are broken down between the three zones of the HIZ—the Immediate Zone (0-5 feet from your house), Intermediate Zone (5-30 feet), and the Extended Zone (30-100 feet, out to 200 feet).

The Immediate Zone

The home and the area 0-5’ from the furthest attached exterior point of the home; defined as a non-combustible area.  Science tells us this is the most important zone to take immediate action on as it is the most vulnerable to embers. START WITH THE HOUSE ITSELF then move into the landscaping section of the Immediate Zone.

  • Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris, and pine needles that could catch embers.

  • Replace or repair any loose or missing shingles or roof tiles to prevent ember penetration.

  • Reduce embers that could pass through vents in the eaves by installing 1/8 inch metal mesh screening.

  • Clean debris from exterior attic vents and install 1/8 inch metal mesh screening to reduce embers.

  • Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens and any broken windows Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.

  • Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches.

The Intermediate Zone

5-30’ from the furthest exterior point of the home. Landscaping/hardscaping- employing careful landscaping or creating breaks that can help influence and decrease fire behavior

  • Clear vegetation from under large stationary propane tanks.

  • Create fuel breaks with driveways, walkways/paths, patios, and decks.

  • Keep lawns and native grasses mowed to a height of four inches.

  • Remove ladder fuels (vegetation under trees) so a surface fire cannot reach the crowns.  Prune trees up to six to ten feet from the ground; for shorter trees do not exceed 1/3 of the overall tree height.

  • Space trees to have a minimum of eighteen feet between crowns with the distance increasing with the percentage of slope.

  • Tree placement should be planned to ensure the mature canopy is no closer than ten feet to the edge of the structure.

  • Tree and shrubs in this zone should be limited to small clusters of a few each to break up the continuity of the vegetation across the landscape.

The Extended Zone

30-100 feet, out to 200 feet. Landscaping – the goal here is not to eliminate fire but to interrupt fire’s path and keep flames smaller and on the ground.

  • Dispose of heavy accumulations of ground litter/debris.

  • Remove dead plant and tree material.

  • Remove small conifers growing between mature trees.

  • Remove vegetation adjacent to storage sheds or other outbuildings within this area.

  • Trees 30 to 60 feet from the home should have at least 12 feet between canopy tops.*

  • Trees 60 to 100 feet from the home should have at least 6 feet between the canopy tops.*

Thank you so much to the National Fire Protection Association for these amazing instructions on wildfire safety preparedness. The future of wildfires in the western United States may seem bleak, but knowing there really is something you can do to protect your home and lessen the chance of a tragic loss is comforting. We hope you’ll follow these tips and share them with your loved ones, too. For more information from the NFPA about how you can join together with your community for a Wildfire Preparedness Day, click here.

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