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Protecting Your Property Against Wildfires

Wildfires have become a tragic part of the daily news lately. They can strike anywhere, at any time, with no warning. State and federal firefighting budgets are stretched to the max as well, so it’s more important than ever that you do everything you can to ensure that your home is as safe as possible. Should a wildfire ever come through your area, don’t let your home become a statistic!

It doesn’t take that much to protect your property against wildfire, and it helps with curb appeal and resale value at the same time. You might even consider organizing a neighborhood group to make the work go that much faster. Here are some of the steps you need to take:

Create a fire break…

The single most important thing to do is create a defensible, noncombustible fire break around your home. If you have a noncombustible roofing material, such as metal, tile or composition shingles, then your fire break should extend out for 30 feet in all directions. To determine the layout of that area, simply measure out 30 feet from each edge of your home’s combustible materials.

For example, you might need to measure from the edge of the roof overhang, or from the edge of a patio cover. If your home has a wooden deck, measure from the edge of that, but if you have a concrete or brick patio, you can measure from the house instead.

One of the biggest dangers during a wildfire is wind-driven embers. So if your home has a combustible roof, such as cedar shakes or shingles, you need to extend the fire break area from 30 feet out to 50 feet.
Within the fire-break area, you want to create a zone where things can’t burn. That doesn’t mean you have to clear cut and pave everything! You just want to create a well-maintained area that’s as free as possible of combustible vegetation. For example, consider using fire-resistant landscaping such as grass, low groundcovers and low shrubbery. The other alternatives are hardscaping materials such as gravel, pavers or any other materials that won’t burn.

Trim trees and remove dead material…

Also within that defensible zone you need to thin out excess trees. During a fire, the flames will easily spread from tree to tree, so you want to thin them so they’re no less than 10 feet apart. You also want to be sure to remove any dead trees.

All remaining healthy trees within the zone need to be limbed up to a height of at least 6 feet. This is done to prevent a fast-moving ground fire from being able to work its way up into the trees. For the same reason, all dead plant material should be removed or at least broken up so there isn’t a fuel bed. Finally, be sure you cut dry grass to less than 4 inches high.

Clear your driveway…

It’s not something a lot of people think about, but in the event of fire, emergency vehicles need to be able to have clear access to your home if they’re going to protect it. If you’re on a piece of property with a long driveway that’s more than 150 feet, fire officials typically request that overhanging trees be limbed up and back so there’s at least 13 1/2 feet of vertical clearance and 12 feet of horizontal clearance. Protect your driveway from the fire by keeping vegetation cleared back for 10 feet from the driveway’s centerline on each side.

Clean up your roof…

Remove any dead branches that overhang your roof. Also, remove dead leaves and pine needles from the roof and gutters, including patio covers; those leaf and needle buildups are extremely flammable, and a single spark or ember can spread with amazing speed. Don’t forget outbuildings on your property as well!

While you’re up there, remember that sparks from your fireplace or woodstove are a real fire hazard. In addition to the cleaning, trim overhanging tree branches back a minimum of 10 feet from the chimney in all directions.

Be careful with outdoor storage…

You don’t want to store firewood right alongside your house, since it can become a real fire hazard and a source of a lot of retained heat during a wildfire. Move your firewood, as well as any lumber piles, at least 20 feet away from the house until fire season is over. Or, better yet, build a separate, enclosed wood storage shed a safe distance away.

The same is true for open areas under decks, which can be an inviting area for storing wood, gasoline and other flammable liquids, and all kinds of things that can catch fire easily and sustain a fire for a long time. Keep the underside of decks and stairs clear of anything and everything that can burn.