Wildfire Home Protection: Tips on Hardening Your Home
In wildfire country, even the tiniest airborne ember can ignite a whirlwind of chaos and fury capable of widespread destruction. In the fight for home survival, homeowners must be proactive in their fire prevention plan.
A burning piece of wood or vegetation can travel more than a mile spreading its fiery seed onto wildland urban communities, which are at the highest risk of wildfire damage, especially during the dry and scorching months.
Burning airborne particles can be the spark that creates spot fires, the catalyst for home destruction. Homeowners can significantly reduce the risk of damage from wildfires by developing a complete wildfire protection plan at home and throughout the community.
Understanding the Home Ignition Zone (HIZ)
Home fires in wildland urban communities are preventable, but it all starts with you. As a responsible homeowner, you must create and maintain your home ignition zone (HIZ) to eliminate the risk of wildfire damage.
If you wait too long to prepare for the wildfire, it may sneak up on you. A wildland urban interface is a ticking time bomb ready to explode. Living amongst the shrublands, foothills, grasslands, and mountains may be beautiful, but there is a dark side to the natural beauty.
In areas where vegetation and human development intersect, fire can be inevitable. In a country where more people are choosing to move to a wildfire prone area, it is important to protect these communities because firefighters can only do so much.
How a Wildfire Spreads
1. Ember Ignition
Burning embers, also known as firebrands, are the most common source of home fires during wildfires, especially on flammable horizontal or nearly horizontal surfaces such as decks or roofs.
2. Direct Flame Contact
Fuel loads (combustible content) next to a home can start a surface fire that can ignite the whole house. It is important to maintain no flammable materials within 5 feet of your home.
3. Radiant Heat
The same type of radiant heat that keeps your hands warm by the campfire can ignite a home. Radiant heat can come from neighboring homes that are burning or a burning treetop.
Defensible Space Zones
One of the best ways to protect your home from wildfire damage is to reduce structural ignitability as well as maintain a fireproof defensible space.
Defensible space refers to the area around the property. Homeowner’s must work to maintain this area to reduce fire hazard and create a safe distance (both horizontally and vertically) between fuel sources for a fire and your home.
The home ignition zone includes the home itself and the area around the home, known as the defensible space. The HIZ is divided into three zones: zone 1, 2, and 3.
Here are a few ways to create fire-ready zones:
- Immediate Zone: (0 to 5 feet around the house)
- Remove combustible furniture
- Replace flammable door mats
- Relocate combustible materials such as garbage and recycling containers, wood piles, and trash
- Clean all dead branches and fallen leaves frequently
- Do not store firewood under decks or overhangs by the house
- Use non-combustible mulches
- Intermediate Zone: (0 to 30 feet)
- Remove dead plants, grass, and other fuel sources from your roof, gutters, and yard
- Relocate wood piles into zone 2
- Remove branches that hang over your roof
- Extended Zone (30 to 100 ft)
- Mow annual grass to a maximum height of four inches.
- Remove flammable materials such as dead vegetation
Investing in Fire Retardant and Fire Resistant Materials
Structural ignitability refers to the level of risk the igniting materials in and around your home can ignite during a wildfire. The process of reducing structural ignitability is known as hardening the home.
In the event of a wildfire, windows can expand and break, thereby reducing the protective barrier and allowing airborne burning particles to infiltrate your home, not to mention creating a safety hazard for people and animals needing to be evacuated. Ideally, you should install metal screens to reduce the spread of the burn and windows with multiple panes for added strength.
Since the roof has a large surface area, it is the main material that is vulnerable to fire. If you are due for a repair or replacement, choose fire-resistant roofing materials and avoid wood and shake-shingle roofing. In some cases, they may even be restricted by law in your jurisdiction.
Invest in metal, concrete, stone, asphalt, tile, or clay materials instead. Roofing products with Class A fire rating are an excellent way to go.
If your roof already has wooden shingles, consider treating them with a fire retardant or setting up a rooftop sprinkler system. However, your best bet at warding off the flames is to switch up your roofing materials to ones with more fire resistance.
Inspect and maintain your roof regularly. All you need is a single ember to enter through an opening to cause havoc. Make sure you fix or replace anything that needs repairs such as loose or missing shingles, cracks, or other openings.
Keep your roof and rain gutters clean from flammable debris such as pine needles, dead leaves, dead plants, small branches, and other vegetation.
Decks and Fences
Anything from synthetic materials such as plastic or natural materials such as wood is perfect kindling. The gaps between the boards on your deck can allow embers to fall through. If you do not clean underneath the deck, you can be hoarding a pile of flammable debris.
Combustible fencing material can also increase your property’s wildfire risk. Fencing material close to your home should be made from a non-combustible material, especially where it is adjacent to your home.
Exterior Walls and Sidings
Your exterior walls are the most affected by radiant heat in the presence of a wildfire and can quickly burn up if there is not a proper defensible space in place. Options that have been known to be more fire-resistant are stucco, brick, fiber-cement, or look for fire-resistant information for the material used for your home or barn sidings.
Vents should have fine wire mesh vent screens for embers. Invest in mesh screens that have gaps under ⅛ of an inch. This mesh size is small enough to block the embers from passing through and extinguishing them before reaching inside your home.
Throughout the home ignition zones, you must reduce the amount of flammable vegetation within. You must trim trees regularly, including branches that hang over the home, outdoor furniture, or other structures, and pruning tree branches up to 6 to 10 feet from the ground, depending on the tree height.
Flammable plants that contain resins, waxes, and oils can catch fire and must be removed. To protect the immediate zone, homeowners can use gravel and crushed stone since mulches can be flammable.
Barn and Farm Protection
If you live on a farm, we recommend getting rid of fire hazards near the farmstead. These could include old and highly flammable farm structures that are close to each other, flammable liquids, and hay. Store flammable materials away from the barn (at least 30 feet). Install sprinkler systems to reduce fire damage in a worst-case scenario.
Avoid parking tractors and vehicles close to the barn since the engine heat and backfires can ignite a material. Park equipment away from vegetation or fuel. Ensure the equipment is not leaking fuel.
Pet and Livestock Safety
When creating a wildfire safety plan, make sure to include one for your pets and livestock.
For livestock safety, clear the defensible space zones around the barns and pastures. Create an evacuation plan that includes temporary housing for your livestock, transportation, and several evacuation routes.
In case of an evacuation, bring along all your pet and livestock vaccination and medical records, as well as other important documents such as proof of ownership. Creating digital copies of your records is highly recommended.
Make a plan in case you have to leave your livestock or pets at home. Keep them indoors in a well-ventilated space with enough food and water for about 3 days.
For pet protection, plan out where you need to take and leave them in case of an evacuation. If you are not home, establish a plan with a neighbor who can help your pets. In addition, always have properly fitted collars with IDs on your pets, which Wilco offers as an in-store service. For an evacuation, bring along a pet carrier for each pet.
In the worst-case scenario, you need to plan for what happens if all of your fire management solutions fail to prevent damage. If firefighters can get to your property in time, there is hope. Make it easy on them by ensuring the street names and numbers are clearly visible.
In addition, make sure that your driveways are wide enough (12 feet) to accommodate a first responder vehicle and that you have plenty of vertical clearance (15 feet) to give the firefighters a fighting chance to gain access to your home.
In an emergency, the level of protection provided by your defensible space can make a world of difference. If the defensible space is compromised, firefighters cannot safely reach your property and attempt to extinguish it.
It takes a village to create a comprehensive plan that works. If just one property in your community does the bare minimum, it can put the rest at risk. Talking with your neighbors and creating a plan for the future can help you be better prepared for when disaster strikes.
For communities who want to go above and beyond, they can seek firewise designation by the National Fire Protection Association. Some insurance companies may provide residents in firewise sites with discounts. Keep in mind, not all insurance provides this.
Contact the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
If you need additional assistance creating a home and community plan for the fire season, speak with your local fire department or forest agency to account for all the particular wildfire risks in your area.
Shop Wildfire Protection Supplies at Wilco Farm Stores
It is never too early to start investing in wildfire protection. Keep your family, pets, property, and valuables inside protected with a detailed wildfire protection plan.
For all of your wildfire protection needs, shop Wilco farm stores.