By: Jill Hamilton
Summer’s coming and, in many parts of the country, summer means fire season. Fire can hit anywhere--not just in isolated wilderness communities. With the right combination of hot dry weather, wind, flammable brush and an ignition source, any house is potentially in danger.
Being smart about fire season is all about being prepared--doing everything possible to reduce the risk of fire in the first place and having a plan in place in case a fire starts. Pre-planning can reduce the risk of damage to your house and help you react calmly and more effectively in case there is a fire.
Preparing a Firesafe Home:
Make the house resistant to flying embers
Most houses don’t catch fire from the fire line reaching the house, but from embers flying ahead of the fire (sometimes several miles.) The most vulnerable spots are the roof, gutters or vents. Choose fire resistant roofing materials like tile, slate or aluminum. Keep the roof and gutters clean and free of debris, and cut tree branches that overhang the roof and chimney. Cover the chimney opening and vents and other openings under porches and decks with fine mesh screening with holes smaller than 1/8 inches.
Opt for fire resistant building materials.
The best choices for houses and other structures are fire-resistant materials like brick and stone. Wood siding, cedar shakes, exterior wood paneling, and other highly combustible materials should be treated with fire retardant chemicals, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).
Create a border
Create a firesafe barrier of 30 feet around the house (more if property slants since fire travels quickly uphill.) Clear dead foliage, mow dry grass and trim tree branches to 10 feet above ground. Keep trees trimmed, healthy and well-spaced. Watered green space works as a better fire defense than a total clearing. Plant succulents or other fire-resistant greenery and break up flammable materials with green space, water features or stone. (Check Firewise for a list of smart plant choices for your region.)
Keep flammable items away from the house
Don’t keep piles of mulch, propane tanks or trash near the house. Store picnic tables, boats and firewood away from structures. Don’t store things under decks and porches and periodically clear them of the debris that collects below them.
Inside protectionTest smoke alarms monthly, change batteries annually, and replace them every 10 years, advises FEMA. Keep fire extinguishers in several different accessible places around the house and test them regularly to keep them in working order. Consider installing a sprinkler system.
Be Prepared in Case of Fire:
Follow the drill
Create a family fire escape plan and have drills to make sure everyone in the family knows what to do. Discuss escape routes, fire safety rules and create a family meeting spot. Make special plans for elderly family members, very small children and pets. Teach children how to open windows to safety escape and not to hide from firefighters.
Have the right equipment
Keep fire tools handy, including a ladder long enough to reach the roof, shovel, rake and bucket for water. Keep hoses ready by an available water supply.
Make house accessible to firefighters
A clearly marked address and driveway wide enough to accommodate truck gives firefighters easy, quick access to your house. If possible, create two entrance and exit routes in case one becomes unusable.
Create an emergency kit
Make an emergency kit with water, food, first aid kid, money, a change of clothing and extra shoes, flashlight, extra batteries, battery powered radio and special items like medications, glasses or diapers. Put together a box of mementos and important papers and keep it handy in case you need to get out quickly.
A safe escape
Leave early and keep the radio tuned for fire updates in case you need to change your evacuation route. Wear protective clothing, with long pants and long sleeved shirt made of non-synthetic material and sturdy shoes. Take a damp bandana or other covering for your face.
Homeowners can never completely eliminate fire danger, but a little preplanning--especially choosing smart building materials, creating a firesafe border and keeping areas clean and debris-free--can go a long way in reducing damage and risk.