Tag: defensible space

Wildfire Prevention Starts Now


Wildfire hazardWildfires are now a year-round threat

We used to consider “fire season” to be summer into fall, and then winter rains came along. These days, wildfire season seems to be year round!  So we should be taking steps for wildfire prevention year round, too.

Here are 5 Action Items for wildfire prevention. Let’s look at them right now, even while cold January rain is falling outside my window . . .

Wildfire prevention on your own property

I hope that you are pretty familiar with what to do for your own property. Action item #1: Confirm you’re following these basics of wildfire prevention.

1Maintain defensible space. Maintain an area around the home cleared of brush, dead tree limbs, and flammable plants. In the areas close to your home, chose fire-resistant plants and keep all plants properly irrigated. The image below, showing different defensible zones, comes from the CalFire website: http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Defensible-Space/ .

CalFire zones

State law in California requires properties in wildfire areas to maintain a 100 ft. defensible space. In 2015, The Los Angeles’ Brush Clearance Program set more specific – and more stringent — standards for clearance:

  • 10 feet of roadways
  • 10 feet of combustible fences
  • 200 feet of structures

2Use fire-resistant building materials. Use brick or stone for walls and garden borders. Build decks of noncombustible materials. Re-roofing? Choose fire-retardant shingles. Obviously, you might not be able to make dramatic changes immediately. But at least be aware of changes you should plan for.

3Block embers. Most fires start from embers that catch on the house, not from a wall of fire! Install screens over vents and block access to eaves and under decks, etc.

This is only a partial list! 

I’m in California, where fire danger is particularly high. You may be in a less vulnerable location, or have different issues. So, Action item #2: Check with your own fire department for recommendations or programs for your neighborhood.

For another good overview resource, get this pamphlet from Farmers Insurance. https://www.farmers.com/content/dam/falcon/pdf/catastrophe-brochures/wildfire.pdf

And while we’re on insurance, be aware that your premium may reflect what you’ve done for fire prevention. Some companies may even offer a discount for defensible space and/or fire retardant building.

Action item #3: Talk with your insurance agent about your personal fire insurance coverage.

Wildfire prevention in your neighborhood

It’s one thing to take steps to protect your individual home.  After all, by law you are responsible for it.

But what if you live in a neighborhood of closely spaced homes, condos, or in a mobile home park? What about nearby community buildings? Local schools?  Parks? If they catch fire, you may be threatened, too.

Action item #4: Find out who is responsible for neighborhood properties. Do they know best practices for fire prevention, and are they following them?

You may need to contact a city or tribal agency, a property manager, or a neighborhood association. Once you have a contact, put on your leadership hat.

Are you on or can you attend a governing board that hires landscapers and/or gardeners? Make sure that your board and the landscapers are aware of basic fire prevention techniques for their site. Do they know what to plant, what to clear, what to trim – and do they do it? (Your fire department will surely be happy to send an expert to one of your board meetings.)

Your own HOA or emergency response team can help individual families understand the safest way to maintain private patios and gardens. Hold a meeting. Draft a notice to include with the rental invoice. Train a couple of your team members as “consultants” for people who have questions or don’t seem to get with the program.

Of course, even with well-maintained defensible space, a property can still burn. But if there’s a choice for fire fighters to protect a prepared space vs. an overgrown and unprepared space, which do you think they will choose?

Consider a community project for wildfire prevention

Since 2013, The National Fire Protection Association® (NFPA) and State Farm Insurance have been sponsoring Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.

This is a national campaign that encourages people to come together ON A SINGLE DAY to reduce wildfire risk. This year, Wildfire Community Preparedness Day is on May 4, 2019.

The idea is to get a group to work together on a project or event. Their efforts may be supported by $500 grants from State Farm.

Here’s what some groups have done in the past:

  • 20 volunteers from the Red Cross, AmeriCorps and the tribe prepared a defensible space around the residences of 3 tribal elders in San Diego County.
  • The local fire department and a youth organizations spent 3 days clearing out dead trees and underbrush from Colorado Mountain Zoo.
  • An elementary school created a “Firewise garden” in front of their school.
  • Boy scouts and local residents worked together on a clean-up day, cleaning roofs and gutters, removing vegetation and debris.
  • Four towns in Colorado banded together to rent equipment to remove 66 truckloads of slash from home sites!

What about your emergency response group taking the lead on a project?

A community project might be a great way to motivate your group! At the same time you could help promote wildfire safety and strengthen relationships among residents, local fire department,  community leaders and elected officials.

To get one of the 150 awards being made by State Farm, you’ll have to submit a plan for your project by March 1.

Action item #5: get all the info about Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, including the application for the grant, at this website:  https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Campaigns/National-Wildfire-Community-Preparedness-Day

With the government shutdown still ongoing this week, the whole concept of reducing fire risks seems particularly important. Why? Because thousands of agency employees are not able to do the cleanup and training they would normally be involved in.

Time for us to step up ourselves. Even starting in the rain!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. This Advisory focuses on preparations you can make BEFORE a fire threatens. Evacuating and fighting fires are separate topics in themselves.

Stay or Go? Keeping Ahead of California Wildfires


Take a look at these 2016 maps, from CALFIRE. On the left, the Current Incidents map shows 10 wildfires burning. Now, look at the map on the right. Just one month later, 17 fires are burning!

California Wildfires

And these are just the MAJOR wildfires burning.

Today, as I write this Advisory, there are 31 fires being fought and/or monitored by CALFIRE.

CALFIRE is the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Its people respond to an average of more than 5,600 wildland fires each year. This year, as of 27 August 2016, they have already responded to 4,270 fires – above average due to significant drought conditions. (No, El Nino didn’t bring Southern California the much needed rain.)

What causes wildfires?

The simple answer: people. Yes, some are started by lightning or lava, but over 90% of fires are started by hunters, campers, tree trimmers and grass mowers, smokers, people’s cars’ catalytic converters and, of course, arsonists.

What can I do to protect my home?

Before you buy or build

Find out before you make an offer if that site is high-risk for wildfires! (If you have found what you think is a good deal, increased wildfire or flood risk may be the reason why.)

Plan for, or confirm, that the home is built from the ground up to the highest fire-resistant construction standards. Building standards vary, but you can get detailed information from your City’s Municipal Code Department and even more detail from the National Fire Protection Association. http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards

Before a wildfire threatens

You’ve heard before about creating a defensible space around your house. Briefly, that means clearing combustible materials from around your house – trees, bushes, uncut grass, piles of wood, fences, sheds, etc. – to create a 100 foot buffer zone between home and fire. Find out full details of each of the 4 zones of defensible space here: http://www.napafirewise.org/index.html

Protect against flying embers by cleaning and then closing up or blocking off gutters, eaves and vent openings or areas under the deck or porch. Purchase or make custom-fitted vent covers.

Pay particular attention to windows and skylights, because they may be more vulnerable to heat. Consider upgrading them to more-resistant materials, and installing metal shutters for the outside of the house and fire-resistant curtains inside.

Fight a fire threatening your home

It is not always possible to protect your home from a wildfire.

However, you may be able to protect your home from a threat or until the fire department gets there by the use of a personal water supply and pump delivery system.

This does NOT mean a garden hose!

Your water source needs to be independent – a pool, dam or lake. Your pump needs to be gas-operated or otherwise stand-alone, since electricity may be out. The entire system – with hoses — needs to be big enough to cover your whole house and preferably the entire defensible space. At the same time, it needs to be portable.

Here is an example from Amazon of the kind of home system you may wish to consider. This model has two 50 foot hoses and can be expanded with more nozzles and hoses. It also delivers foam and comes with approximately 3 hours’ worth.
Home Firefighting HF-S14FC-100F-BK Pool Fire Pump Cart System with 1-Inch Fire Hose and 30 gpm Solid Cartridge Foam System

Obviously, you need to maintain a system like this and practice with it before you actually need it.

Know when to evacuate

For all the above recommendations about preparing for and fighting fire, be ready to go sooner rather than later.

Here are evacuation recommendations from CALFIRE. You can get their full evacuation checklists at http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Pre-Evacuation-Preparation/

Inside the House

• Shut all windows and doors, leaving them unlocked.
• Remove flammable window shades and curtains.
• Close metal shutters.
• Move flammable furniture to the center of the room.
• Shut off air conditioning.
• Shut off gas at the meter; turn off pilot lights.
• Leave lights on so firefighters can see your house under smoky conditions.

Outside the House

• Gather up flammable items from the yard (furniture, toys, trash cans) and put them inside or in your pool.
• Turn off propane tanks. Move propane BBQ appliances away from structures.
• Connect garden hoses to outside spigots for use by firefighters.
• Don’t leave sprinklers on or water running (can affect water pressure).
• Leave exterior lights on so your home is visible.
• Have a ladder available and place it at the corner of the house for firefighters to quickly access your roof.
• Seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or commercial seals.

We have seen the news footage of fire after fire, and, unfortunately, heard about not only property damage but death.

Preparing for the risk of a wildfire needs to be part of your emergency planning, particularly if you live in California.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Any more ideas you’d like to add to this list?  Just drop them into the comments!