Wildfires are serious business – and so is protecting your home. Fire departments cannot individually do a structural defense of every home in a threatened area. Because of resource limitations and logistical factors, they have to focus on the larger picture. Chances are very good that, in the event of a wildfire, your home will have to withstand the event on its own.
That requires an ongoing effort. You can’t wait until a wildfire is threatening your neighborhood to take action. By then it will be too late to fully harden your home and still be able to safely evacuate yourself and your family. Here is a checklist of things you can do now to protect your home when the time comes.
- Enroll in your home insurance company’s wildfire protection program. Many home insurers have contracted with fire defense and prevention firms to provide consultation with homeowners on everything from construction techniques and materials to landscape maintenance, and some even dispatch wildfire response teams to threatened neighborhoods. Enrollment is usually free. Contact your agent for more information.
- Bring in a consultant. Again, many home insurers will provide this service for free for members who enroll in their fire prevention programs.
- Pack a “go bag.” That bag should contain three or four days’ worth of clothes, hygiene items, and copies of key phone numbers and insurance documents. It only takes a second to grab it from your closet. If you have to evacuate in a hurry, time is of the essence. If you have a few minutes, it’s better to spend them doing final fire hardening checks than running around trying to pack a “go-bag” at the last minute.
Maximize “Defensible Space”
- Mow your lawn. High grass is like a race track for flames heading straight toward your house. Keeping the grass mowed substantially reduces a wildfire’s fuel supply in the last few dozen yards before your house.
- Eliminate shrubs that grow close to your house. Shrubs catch fire quickly if struck by burning embers – and are like kindling to your home.
- Clear any dead or overhanging branches from around your house. Those same trees that provide shade in the summer could also point a fire right toward your house.
- Clip the lower branches on all trees, and prune back nearby shrubs, to keep fire from climbing trees.
- Move your LP/propane tank at least 30 to 50 feet from your home.
- Trim shrubs, cut grass and clear branches away from your fuel tank, just as you would from around your home.
- Don’t forget sheds, barns and other outbuildings.
Fireproof Your Home
- Check your roof. Flammable wood roof shingles are asking for trouble. Tile is better. Consider a Class A fire retardant roof coating.
- Replace flammable siding with nonflammable.
- Maintain your hose in good working condition and check it for leaks, dry rot, etc.
- Cover vents with one-eighth inch mesh. You want to keep any embers from entering your home via the ventilation system.
- Clean out your gutters. Dry leaves in gutters are a ready source of fuel – perilously close to your roof. Get up there with a ladder and some gloves and keep your gutters clear.
- Install a “gutter cover,” to help keep leaves and other debris out of your gutters.
- Install dual-pane windows, rather than single-pane windows.
- Use tempered glass. Tempered glass is much less susceptible to breaking during the high heat conditions of a wildfire than standard glass panes.
- Prepare window covers in advance. These are similar to hurricane shutters, but designed to keep out embers, rather than winds and rain. You can even make them out of plywood. Treat the wood with a fire-resistant coating, and eliminate brush and other fuel sources near the windows. You can install the covers quickly before evacuating.
- Separate flammable fences from your house. You may install a five to 10 foot section of nonflammable fencing material at the point where your home connects with a fence.
- Use metal or other nonflammable boards for deck construction. If you’ve inherited a flammable hardwood or composite deck, use a fire retardant treatment.
- Clear brush and other materials that could fuel a fire from underneath decks. Don’t use the underside of your deck or home as a storage area.