Preparing, defending homes for wildfire season

Posted: Monday, April 10, 2006

Spring is approaching once again and it’s time to start thinking about planting flowers, mowing lawns and other outdoor chores. As you pull out the gardening gloves, begin to plan how you will incorporate some fire prevention into your yard work this year. The past few summers of wildfires should be all the motivation any of us need to get serious about the risk of wildfire to our homes and property.

Defensible space is a term that most of us will be familiar with by now. Creating defensible space reduces the fire-feeding fuels around your home in order to give you the best possible chance to evacuate and see your house spared by fire.

At a minimum, you should clear all flammable vegetation within a 30-foot radius of your house. You may want to increase the radius up to 100 feet, depending on the slope of the surrounding land and the fuels that border your property.

Replace highly flammable plants in the cleared area with fire-resistant plants. A list of fire- resistant plants is available from the Division of Forestry at 260-4260, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management at 262-2098 and the Cooperative Extension Office at 262-5824.

After you’ve taken care of the land immediately surrounding your home and any other structures you want to protect, consider thinning trees in the outlying wooded areas of your property — particularly any that are dead or diseased. Trim any dead limbs — especially those that overhang your roof or any (even healthy) that are within 10 feet of your chimney. Keep your roof, gutters, decks and other areas of the house free of dead leaves, needles, bark or other debris that could ignite if burning embers fall.

When it’s time to clean up the dead stuff, make sure you are following all requirements for burn permits and keep your burn barrel at least 30 feet from any structure, clear the ground around it (at least 10 feet), keep the barrel in good condition and cover it with a screen.

When it’s time to start putting up firewood, be sure to stack it (along with any scrap wood piles you may keep) at least 30 feet away from any structure, in a cleared spot that’s free of vegetation. You don’t want to lead the fire right to your front door! You’ll also want to store fuel, snow machines, four-wheelers, lawnmowers and machinery away from your house.

While you’re out in your yard, take a look at your “curb appeal” from the firefighter’s perspective: are your house numbers easily seen from the road? (If your house is set back from the road, post your address or name at the entrance of the property.) Are any road signs missing in your neighborhood? Is the access to your house fire truck-friendly? Narrow roads, overhanging vegetation, un-marked dead-ends or weak bridges all make it difficult or impossible for a fire truck to reach you.

If your summertime agenda includes building or remodeling, consider incorporating materials that will make your house more fire-resistant.

If you’re building a new house, situate the house at least 30 feet from the lot boundaries to allow for proper defensible space planning. You’ll also want to consider the slope of your property when planning structure placement: ridges, canyons and areas that sit between two high points are all at high risk for wildfire because fire can intensify as it moves up a slope.

Look for building materials that resist fire (like metal roofing) and use them as much as possible. Skirt the access underneath your house or porch to prevent flames from being trapped and igniting your home.

If you would like more information about preparing for wildfire season, attend the free Fire Corps Wildfire Preparedness Training from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Kenai River Center on Funny River Road.

Online resources include Community Wildfire Prevention Plans, which are being developed boroughwide for communities with high fire risk. The draft plans are available at FireWise information also is available on the Web at

Kimberly Lorentzen is on the Kenai Peninsula Citizen Corps Council and writes articles on emergency preparedness for the Borough Office of Emergency Management at 262-4910.

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