Wildfire season is upon us, and it’s not just California that has to worry about this destructive disaster this year. In an unprecedented heat wave, 84 large fires and complexes have burned 3,071,353 acres in 13 states.
The concern is spreading among those who previously had little to no reason to worry. Those concerned about wildfires in their state can do more to prepare for the likelihood of wildfires. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are methods for homeowners to prepare their homes to withstand ember attacks and minimize the likelihood of flames or surface fire touching the home or any attachments.
Research has shown that homeowners who protect against small flames and embers have a fighting chance to keep their homes. Embers are burning pieces of airborne wood and/or vegetation that can be carried more than a mile through the wind and can cause spot fires and ignite homes, debris, and other objects. The National Fire Protection Association said proper precautions must be taken to protect your home from embers.
Experiments, models, and post-fire studies have shown homes ignite due to the condition of the home and everything around it, up to 200 feet away from the foundation. This is called the Home Ignition Zone (HIZ). The HIZ can be split into three groups based on distance from the home.
- IMMEDIATE ZONE
This zone includes the home and the area up to 5 feet from the furthest attached exterior point of the home, defined as a non-combustible area. This is the most important zone to take immediate action on as it is the most vulnerable to embers. Start with the house itself and then move outward into the landscaping section of the Immediate Zone. Prepare this zone by taking the following steps:
- Clean roofs and all gutters of dead leaves, debris, and pine needles that could catch embers.
- Replace or repair any loose or missing shingles or roof tiles to prevent ember penetration.
- Reduce embers that could pass through vents in the eaves by installing 1/8 inch metal mesh screening.
- Clean debris from exterior attic vents and install 1/8 inch metal mesh screening to reduce embers.
- Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens and any broken windows Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.
- Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches.
2. INTERMEDIATE ZONE
This zone spans the area 5-30 feet from the furthest exterior point of the home, extending beyond the immediate zone. Landscaping/hardscaping or employing careful landscaping or creating breaks that can help influence and decrease fire behavior in this zone. To prepare this area:
- Clear vegetation from under large stationary propane tanks.
- Create fuel breaks with driveways, walkways/paths, patios, and decks.
- Keep lawns, and native grasses mowed to a height of four inches.
- Remove ladder fuels (vegetation under trees) so a surface fire cannot reach the crowns. Prune trees up to six to ten feet from the ground; for shorter trees, do not exceed 1/3 of the overall tree height.
- Space trees have a minimum of eighteen feet between crowns, with the distance increasing with the slope percentage.
- Tree placement should be planned to ensure the mature canopy is no closer than ten feet to the edge of the structure.
- Trees and shrubs in this zone should be limited to small clusters of a few each to break up the continuity of the vegetation across the landscape.
3. EXTENDED ZONE
This zone stretches 30-100 feet out to 200 feet from the house. The goal here is not to eliminate the fire but to interrupt the fire’s path and keep all flames smaller and on the ground. Landscaping in this zone should include:
- Dispose of heavy accumulations of ground litter/debris.
- Remove dead plant and tree material.
- Remove small conifers growing between mature trees.
- Remove vegetation adjacent to storage sheds or other outbuildings within this area.
- Trees 30 to 60 feet from the home should have at least 12 feet between canopy tops.
- Trees 60 to 100 feet from the home should have at least 6 feet between the canopy tops.
Tree spacing will depend on which zone you are prepping for:
The following video shows what a wildfire-prepared home really looks like and is good for insurance purposes if you live in a wildfire-prone area:
A home in Paradise, California, has become the nation’s first designated wildfire-prepared home after the owners took every precaution they could. The designation was developed by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety as a way for homeowners to prove that they have taken scientifically proven steps to mitigate the risk of total home loss in a wildfire.
In order to receive a designation, homeowners must meet a list of requirements that fall under three main categories.
The first is having a “Class A” roof. A roof with this rating is made from material that is resistant to catching fire from embers. The second major category includes a list of materials and standards that should be used around attic spaces, including an eighth-inch mesh screen over vents and maintaining clear gutters. The third and most notable requirement is maintaining at least 5 feet of space between the home and any combustible materials for the entire perimeter of the building. That includes things like mulch, vegetation, and wood fencing.
“All of these ideas are things that we have looked at in the laboratory and in post-event,” said IBHS Chief Engineer Anne Cope.
It’s never too soon to think about preparations, especially if you live within a few hundred miles of where wildfires are common.