Wildfire proofing your home

Posted: Monday, August 29, 2005

Do you know how to protect your home year-round from wildfire? If you live in a wooded area, there are no guarantees that your home will never be threatened by wildfire, but there is a lot you can do to make your home as safe as possible from the threat.

Landscaping is one of the first and most important steps you should take to reduce your home's threat from wildfire. Create a "defensible space" - or an area of 30 or more feet around your house that is cleared of fuels.

Here are some important steps in creating a defensible space:

Thin out trees and brush (especially the more combustibleplants, such as spruce).

Dispose of the debris left from thinning.

Remove dead limbs, leaves, dry grass, etc.

Stack firewood well away from the house (preferably 30 feet or more).

Keep a well-watered greenbelt around the house.

Keep the lawn mowed and the area weeded.

Prune branches to 10 feet above ground.

Keep branches trimmed and away from chimney, roofline, power lines, etc.

Keep your roof and gutters cleaned.

Reduce the density of the surrounding forest by selectively thinning.

Consider replacing flammable vegetation with fire resistive plants.

Developing a fire plan and helping the entire family to learn and practice the plan is another important step in becoming prepared for wildfire. Discuss the possibility of wildfire with your neighbors and talk about tools, equipment and other important resources everyone in the neighborhood could share in case of wildfire to save property or help people evacuate.

Make an evacuation plan for your household. This includes identifying normal and alternate escape routes, learning the location of safety zones (areas with little or no vegetation where people can wait out the fire if evacuation is impossible), prearranged ways to contact family members to let them know you're OK and where you are in case of an evacuation, and household assignments in case of an evacuation (i.e., who will get the disaster supplies kit, turn on the lights, shut off fuel lines, etc.).

Consider what equipment you should have on hand if a wildfire is approaching: garden hoses, a ladder that will reach your roof, fire extinguishers and protective clothing (cotton long-sleeved shirt, boots, respirator mask or handkerchief for minimal lung protection).

If the order to evacuate is given, leave immediately (don't forget your pets). If there is time for those in the house who are not ill, very young or very old to prepare the house, clear combustibles from within your defensible space. Close and protect openings in the house: close doors, windows, fireplace damper, outside attic openings, vents, pet doors, etc. Shut off gas, propane or other fuel lines.

If you have gas-powered water pumps, be sure they are fueled and ready to use. Mark them with basic instructions and leave a note on the door indicating their location. Put your ladder in clear view for firefighters. Disconnect your automatic garage door opener so the door can be opened by hand if necessary. Leave everything unlocked for the firefighters (the entire area of the fire will be secure). Have your valuables in the car and the car ready to go the moment you need to leave. Wear protective clothing while you ready your house and prepare to evacuate. Before you leave, turn on the outside lights and leave a light on in every room to make the house visible in the smoke.

If you are trapped at home in a wildfire, follow the steps above to prepare your house and then stay calm. When the fire has passed, immediately check your roof and attic. Put out any burning embers right away.

Remember, if you see a wildfire, call 911 to report it. If it's not in the news, don't assume that someone else has already reported it. When you call, describe the fire's location and answer any questions the dispatcher asks.

Kimberly Lorentzen writes for the Kenai Peninsula Citizen Corps.

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