People are increasingly building and living in homes near forested areas, in rural settings and on mountainsides because they enjoy the peace and serenity these environments offer. However, as people expand into these regions, the danger of being faced with a wildfire grows. Many people think of house fires as being propagated by arsonists or the result of human error. However, many wildfires are phenomena of nature, and they cannot be stopped any more than a tornado, hurricane or earthquake can be.
The Risk of Wildfires
Humans cause the majority of wildfires, by activities such as burning debris or discarding cigarettes. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, humans start about six time more wildfires than lightning strikes. In spite of this fact, lightning-sparked fires have often burned more land and property than human-caused fires. Before people established settlements near forests, the fires would eventually diminish and die before they reached a house or community.
The good news is that it is possible to endure and limit the damage of wildfires and other types of house fires through careful planning. Very few wildfires threaten homes without warning, but they can also spread very rapidly and change direction without notice.
Wildfire Preparedness around Your Home
The best way to protect your family from a wildfire is to prepare your home and property. You can take several fire safety steps that are designed to buy you time and provide you with an outlet for escape should it become necessary.
When you landscape your property, keep wildfires in mind. Certain plants and materials can help you contain fires and prevent them from spreading, but others will only fuel a fire.
The best materials to use for your home are those that are noncombustible, fireproof or fire resistant. Wooden structures and additions, such as decks, trim, siding, and roofs, should be treated with fire-retardant chemicals, preferably those that have been tested and approved by a respected laboratory or government agency.
Other wildfire preparedness measures you can take to protect your home or business are to:
- Keep your roof and gutter clear of combustible debris.
- Clean your chimney semi-annually and ensure the damper is working properly. All chimneys and stovepipes should be equipped with a spark arrester.
- Surround the underside of decks, porches and open floors with an aluminum mesh screen that is at least 1/8-inch thick.
- Install smoke alarms on each floor of your home, test them monthly and change the batteries annually.
- Keep a fire extinguisher in a place where you can easily reach it.
- Install fire-resistant shutters or curtains on your windows.
- Always have a ladder that will reach from the ground to the roof.
- Never leave flammable or explosive materials lying around your property.
- Mow your lawn on a regular basis.
- Clear leaves and other natural debris from your yard and from underneath your structures.
- Not allow vines to grow on exterior walls.
- Store flammable materials away from your home in approved safety containers.
- Always have a source of water located outside your home, such as a pond, wellspring, fire hydrant or swimming pool.
- Maintain two exterior water spigots on opposite sides of your home. Be sure they will not freeze, and have a garden hose that will reach all parts of your house.
Additionally, you should notify your electric company if tree limbs are extending into the power lines around your home. It is also a good idea to take an inventory of your belongings and have photographic evidence of them for your insurance company.
For more wildfire preparedness tips, see our posts on Wildfire Safety Facts and Prevention and What to Do When a Wildfire is Near. You can also visit the NFPA’s National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day page to create special projects and access other resources.
Help be more prepared for disasters by learning about ALE’s disaster response solutions.
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