1. DEFENSIBLE SPACE
The first thing you can do to help prevent wildfires is to create a defensible space around your home.
The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) has created a “zone concept” that can be applied to your home or cabin and the surrounding yard.
Most homes ignite in a wildfire because of embers. Embers are burning pieces of vegetation or materials that can be carried by the wind for more than a mile. When they land on your home or in the yard, they can light your house on fire.
The zone concept created by the NFPA, minimizes the likelihood of these embers touching your home, by creating a defensible space up to 200 feet from the foundation of the home. This is what they have called the Home Ignition Zone (HIZ).
What is the Home Ignition Zone?
The Home Ignition Zone was introduced by fire scientist, Jack Cohen. He divided the HIZ into three zones, shown in the picture below:
The closest zone is called the Immediate
zone and it includes the area 0-5 feet
from the house itself.
This is the most important area to
concentrate on first.
Reduce the effect of embers by:
Clean gutters and roofs of debris, pine needles, dry leaves or other combustible materials.
Repair loose or missing shingles or tiles to prevent embers from penetrating the roof and catching the house on fire.
Put up a 1/8 inch metal screening over all the vents in the eaves of the home to prevent embers from entering the home.
Clean all debris from attic vents and put 1/8 inch mesh screening over these vents as well.
Box in or screen below decks to prevent debris from accumulating underneath.
Remove any flammable materials from walls of your home like plants, leaves, needles, stacks of firewood, or anything that can burn. Do the same for things stored under patios or decks.
This is the next area to concentrate your
This zone is 5-30 feet from the exterior of
Be thoughtful about your landscaping so
that you can create breaks that decrease
Clear vegetation around propane tanks.
Create fire breaks with cement driveways or sidewalks and paths.
Keep lawns mowed to no higher than 4 inches.
Remove all plants under trees as they can act like “ladder fuels” and cause the fire to spread easily to trees.
Prune all the trees on your property up to 6-10 feet from the ground.
Space the trees out on your property. There should be a minimum of 18 feet between the crowns of the trees. They need to be farther apart if there is a slope to your yard.
Plan your tree placement so that when the trees are fully grown, the trees are no closer than 10 feet from the edge of the house.
Trees and shrubs in the intermediate one should be limited to small clusters with space between them to break up the vegetation around the yard.
This is the final zone that you should concentrate on when creating defensible space on your property.
This is the area 30-100 feet, out to 200 feet from the house.
The goal with this landscaping is not to eliminate fire but to interrupt fire’s growth and path and to keep flames minimal and on the ground.
Clear the land of accumulations of debris and litter
Remove all dead plant material.
Remove small trees that are growing between mature trees.
Remove all vegetation around outbuildings like storage sheds.
Follow the guidelines of proper tree spacing. In the area 30-60 feet from the home, there should be 12 feet between tree canopies. 60-100 feet from the house there should be 6 feet between the canopy tops.
2. FIRE-RESISTANT PLANTS
Oftentimes homeowners remove the native plants in an area in favor of other plants or grasses.
Many times, the native plants are more fire-resistant than the non-native plants. The National Fire Protection Association has a list of each state most fire-resistant plants.
When you plan your landscaping, you should think about fire prevention from the very beginning, or replace your existing landscaping with fire-resistant plants.
In Arizona, the plants that tend to be more fire resistant have one or more of the following characteristics:
They have a high moisture content or store water inside, like cactus and deciduous plants
They grow without producing large quantities of combustible, dead branches.
In general, their structure is open with loose branches and vegetation.
They are short and grow close to the ground.
They have low sap or resin content. Resin tends to increase flammability.
They are slow growing plants that need minimal pruning and maintenance.
They can re-sprout following a fire thus reducing landscaping costs.
3. SPACE IT OUT
Make sure you have enough empty space between shrubs and trees to reduce the chance of flames leaping between them.
In each zone of your yard, the distance between tree canopies will vary, but the closer they are to the house, the farther apart they should be from each other.
When trees or shrubs are planted too close together it provides a continuous layer of fuel for the fire. To reduce the fire’s speed and intensity, space needs to be created between the plants.
Keep in mind that if you have a slope, you will need to have more space between the vegetation as shown in the picture below:
Not only does the steepness and the grade of the slope change fire behavior, but slopes are also more vulnerable to erosion. When you remove trees and vegetation from a slope, do your best to disturb the soil as little as possible. In order to reduce the amount of erosion in the soil, you may need to replace the vegetation you remove with native, fire-resistant plants.
4. PRUNE DILIGENTLY
Vegetation often grows at varying heights, that are staggered at different levels like a ladder.
When there are lots of “ladder fuels” near the bottom of a tree, the flames can quickly rise and climb the tree.
For example, if you have a shrub that is 2 feet tall, there should be at least 6 feet between the top of the shrub and the bottom branches of neighboring tree. This will help prevent the flames from laddering their way up. Another option is to simply remove the shrub altogether.
5. MOW AND WATER
Keep grass watered well and keep your grass mowed short. It should never be more than four inches high
Maintenance of important throughout the summer and fall.
It is also important to keep your yard raked and clear of pine needles or dry leaves. The more combustible materials you can clean up and remove, the better chance you have of defending your property against embers and fire.
6. CHECK YOUR ROOF
Having the right roofing materials on your home or cabin an also make a big difference in defending your home against embers.
All fire-resistant roofing material is given a rating by the National Fire Protection Association.
These ratings only apply when the materials are properly installed, but there are three classes which vary in their abilities to resist fire:
A = effective against severe fire exposure
B = effective against moderate fire exposure
C = effective against light fire exposure
If your roof is made up of non-rated roof materials (such as combustible wood shingles) they should be replaced immediately with a different roofing material, such as fiberglass, gravel, clay tile, or metal.
7. STORE AND REMOVE
Put furniture, potted plants, mats, cushions into storage for the season.
Removing them from decks and patios will prevent them from igniting from a stray ember.
Walk around your house and look for large fuel sources, like woodpiles, boats or cars, piles of lumber and remove them from your property.
The less fuel the fire has access to the better.
8. CLOSE EVERYTHING UP
If there is a fire nearby and you are ordered to evacuate, close all the windows and doors and pet doors as well.
Many houses can be destroyed when embers enter the home through one of these openings.
Keeping everything closed up will reduce the chances of an ember entering your home.
9. HELP NEIGHBORS
You can help spread the word about fire prevention and preparation around your neighborhood.
The more defensible space you can create in the entire neighborhood, the more protected everyone’s homes will be.
You can check with local officials to see if there are specific local ordinances that you need to be following and you can help your neighbors get informed as well. Talk to the fire department about exit routes and safe meeting places.
Do you what you can to help others prepare for fire season and make a positive difference in your community. As you do this, you will be protecting your own home in the process.
10. PREPARE FOR THE WORST
If you live in an area that is susceptible to wildfire, it is wise to be prepared in the case of an evacuation.
There are several things you can do ahead of time to be ready for a worst case scenario:
Assemble an emergency supply kit and keep it in a safe place. Remember to include important documents, medications and personal identification. Think about what you would need to take if you had to leave your home in a hurry.
Develop an emergency evacuation plan. Once you have created a plan you need to practice it with all the members of your family so everyone knows what to do in an emergency.
Plan two exits out of your neighborhood and pre-plan a safe, designated meeting place in case not everyone is home at the time of evacuation.
In order for a fire to burn and spread there have to be three elements in place:
1. Fuel – this is the material that feeds a fire, like a home, vegetation or anything flammable around your home.
2. Heat – Heat that is produced by a wildfire changes the weather in patterns in the immediate area, causing updrafts and conduction.
3. Oxygen – a fire has to have oxygen in order to burn.
When these three things exist, combustion will occur, but it’s important to understand that fire doesn’t engulf everything in its path. Fires only advance in areas that meet these requirements. This means that homeowners can make a big impact on path of a fire.
By taking steps to alter the size, quantity, type, and spacing of vegetation and other fuels, people can impact the movement of the fire and decrease the chance it will ignite a home.
If you make preparations now to prevent the spread of wildfires, it has a double benefit. Not only are you protecting your property as much as possible, you are also making it easier for firefighters to get control of the fire.
When home ignitions are lessened through preventative actions—like removing vegetation and flammable materials and also using fire-resistant materials—then fire fighter resources can be concentrated on containing the wildfire instead of fighting structure fires.
This will make the fight against wildfires more effective. This protects other properties, the forests, and the lives of fire fighters and residents.
Despite our best preventative efforts, sometimes fires happen anyway. There are circumstances outside of our control. At Titan Restoration of Arizona, we are experts in fire damage. We have helped people restore their properties after a fire and we are always here to help you as well if the worst-case scenario happens.
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