With the fire season ramping up again, this means that those of us that live in areas prone to annual fires need to be prepared to ensure our safety. If you happen to live in the state of California, then it is even more essential that you, your family, and your house are prepared for the fire season. However, this problem is not limited just to the state of California, but for many parts of North America as well.
Statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center showed that the U.S. has already suffered from 32,887 large fires, which has already burned close to 4 million acres across 14 states, as of August 26. This stat inches us closer to the 6.3 million acres that fire burned last year. Canada is also expecting bigger and stronger fires as well. In Alberta alone, 800 thousand hectares already burned this summer.
Though wildfires can be extremely dangerous, through proper preparation and knowledge, you can be ready should an event occur.
In this article, we’ll cover how to prepare your home, your family, and what to do in the event a wildfire approaches.
What You Need To Do To Prepare Your House For the Fire Season
One of the first things people consider when preparing for fire season is their home as it is often one of their most important belongings. A well-prepared home can go a long way to increase the probability that it won’t get burned down in the event a wildfire impacts your area.
Creating A Defensible Space – A defensible space is an area around your home that will act as a buffer between your house and the environment surrounding it. The required defensible space for houses in wildfire-prone areas is 100 feet and it is divided into 2 zones. Zone 1 starts from your house and extends 30 feet out (San Diego requires 50 feet clearance for Zone 1, so you need to check with your local government or fire department to know the requirement for your particular zone). Zone 2 is the remaining area, which will extend to 100 feet out from your house.
What you need to do in Zone 1
Clear the area of any dead vegetation like weeds, dry leaves, pine needles, and dead grass.
Roof and rain gutters need to be cleared of dry or dead vegetation and branches as well.
Branches need to be trimmed so trees are kept at a minimum of 10 feet from each other.
Branches should also be kept at 10 feet away from chimneys.
Flammable plants and shrubs, as well as any items that could catch fire, should also be removed from the windows and just anywhere in general near your house.
If you have a woodpile, this needs to be placed in Zone 2 as well.
What you need to do in Zone 2
Grass should only have a maximum height of 4 inches
Fallen leaves, needles, barks, twigs, and small branches should be removed in these areas.
Do not clear all vegetation down to the bare soil since this increases the chances of erosion and will lead to the growth of weeds. The goal is just to thin the vegetation.
Also, removing any trees or fire resistance vegetation 100 feet beyond your home won’t help protect your house as it actually increases the risk of fire. Having a wide clearance makes the house vulnerable to wind-blown embers since there won’t be any obstacle to catch the ember other than the house.
Retrofitting Your Home with Non-Flammable Materials – Ensuring that the area around your house is safe from flammable materials is not enough, you also need to make sure that the exterior of your house is using non-flammable materials as well.
Your roof is one of the most vulnerable areas of your home and using shingle roofs or wood puts its a greater risk of being burned by wildfire. Using non-flammable materials like tiles or metal for your roof ensures it won’t get destroyed easily nor cause the fire to spread faster. Covering any spaces between the roof decking also prevents it from catching wind-blown embers.
Vents are another vulnerable area in your home since embers can enter through them. Covering the vents is important and you should only use metal mesh so they won’t easily burn. Apply ¼” non-combustible screening to all vent or eave openings to prevent fire ambers from blowing into your attic.
You also need to protect the eaves, soffits, subfloors, and fascias of your home using fire-resistant material. Treated wood is a good material to use.
Your windows are also vulnerable to breaking because of the heat, even if the house is not yet on fire. Use a dual-paned glass with one pane being made in tempered glass to enforce your windows. If it’s possible, try lessening the number of windows that are facing a large area of vegetation.
The decks of your house, or any surface within 10 feet of the house, should only use non-combustible or other approved materials.
Use only ignition-resistant materials for your walls like fiber cement, treated wood, stucco, and other materials that are approved as non-combustible.
Rain gutters should also be screened or enclosed so plant debris won’t accumulate there.
Chimneys also need to be covered with screens that are not combustible. The openings of the screen should prevent embers from escaping.
The garage should contain tools that you might need in case of fire emergencies like fire extinguishers, buckets, rakes, hoses, and shovels. All combustible liquid should be stored properly and the garage doors should have weather stripping to prevent embers from entering.
Fences should also be made with fire-resistant materials so they won’t end up as fuel for fires to continue spreading.
Use fire-resistant plants and materials in your defensive space to help prevent wildfires from coming close to your home.
You can also install external sprinklers to wet your house and roof, which are considered an effective way of keeping your home from burning during a wildfire.
You should also ensure that the driveways and access roads to your house are clear and follow your local area codes and requirements. This is to ensure that emergency vehicles and equipment can access your property.
Ensure that your address is visible from the street. This is especially important when emergency responders are trying to find your home.
Have A Plan or Strategy – It is also important that you have a plan or strategy in case of wildfires. This means you need to be aware of the plans and measures that your community has. Follow the safety protocols that they provide, know where the evacuation centers are, have a list of numbers that you can call in case of emergencies, and know the best routes that you and your family should take in case the wildfires have reached your area. Having a plan or strategy will not only ensure that your home will be protected, but it also allows you to know what you need to do in case your house is already compromised.
Preparing Yourself and Your Family
Your home is not the only thing that you need to prepare in case of a wildfire as you need to make sure that you and your family are also prepared for this emergency.
Have A Family Action Plan – If you have a plan or strategy for your home, you’ll also need an action plan that every member of the family is familiar with. This ensures everyone will know what to do in case a wildfire emergency breaks out in your community.
You should designate an emergency area that is outside the hazard area that you and your family members would meet up. Though ideally you are all together when the wildfire emergency breaks out, you should have a planned meetup location in case you’re all in different locations when the emergency breaks out.
Identify safe escape routes from your home and community that each family member should know and memorize. Knowing ahead of time the path that you need to take will eliminate second-guessing on whether the route is correct or not.
Have a communication plan on how to contact each other in case the disaster happens when everyone is separated. You can use a two-way radio that each member of the family will have with them at all times should normal communication options like your cell phone service be down. You should also have a close relative or friend who doesn’t live in the area to be the designated contact person. That person will be the one to contact everyone to get updates instead of you trying to contact everyone. Not only is this easier, but it also helps that you have another person who can help you locate the others while you’re also trying to survive during this emergency.
You also need to have a plan to evacuate pets and large animals in case you have them. This is important since this ensures that you’ll know what to do and how to get them out of the wildfire safely.
Prepare an emergency kit – It is always important to have an emergency kit for each member of the family. These kits will contain all the necessary supplies needed should you be displaced for several days. This includes water, food, first aid kit, a two-way radio, a portable radio, basic survival tools, and a set of clothes.
Prepare an extra Emergency Kit that you’ll place in the car in case you can’t go back home during the emergency.
The Emergency Kit also needs to contain the emergency numbers that family members can call.
Walkthrough around the house – It’s also important that you walk your family through the house to let them know where certain emergency tools, like fire extinguishers, shovels, buckets, and other tools are located. Each family member should also know how to use these tools and when to use them.
Each member should also know where the main shut-off controls for electricity, gas, and water are located and how to properly turn them off during emergencies.
What You Need To Do When A Wildfire Approaches Your Area
You’ve already made your preparations for your home. You and your family members are also prepared and ready in case of a wildfire. But what will you do should a wildfire break out and approach your area?
The most important thing that you should do first is not to panic, regardless if the wildfire is still far from your home or already near it. Panicking won’t help you or your family, so a clear head is what’s needed in this type of situation. If you’ve made your preparations as we’ve covered in the previous 2 points, there’s no need for you to panic since you’re ready for this emergency.
Here are some other tips you can do when a wildfire approaches your area:
Evacuate immediately when authorities tell you to.
Remember, your priority should be you and your family’s safety and not your house, so evacuate when you’re told to do so.
Make sure you have already planned the routes that you and your family will take and know which evacuation center or area you will go to.
Have a portable radio and constantly listen for updates.
If you’re trapped in your home, call 911 or any local emergency number to let the authorities know your location.
Keep all the doors and windows on your house closed but don’t lock them.
Fill the tubs and sinks with cold water.
Stay away from windows and the outside walls, and stay indoors.
If you’re driving when the fire breaks out and you realize you can no longer escape either due to your evacuation route being blocked or you simply can no longer see where you’re going, the first thing you need to do is to park it in an area that is clear from any form of vegetation.
Call 911 or a local emergency number to let them know your location.
Close all windows and vents of your car.
Lie on the vehicle floor or stay as low as possible and cover yourself with a jacket or wool blankets.
If you happen to be trapped while you’re on foot, don’t try to outrun the fire.
Look for an area that is clear of vegetation or an area that has a body of water like a pond or river.
Lie low to the ground and cover your whole body with wet clothing or a blanket. If you don’t have anything to cover yourself, you can use the soil.
Breathe through a mask or a moist cloth and breathe the air that is as close as possible to the ground to avoid suffocation.
What to do after a wildfire
After the wildfire has already been contained, the preparation that you and your family did, will pay off. But the preparation doesn’t end here. There are also things that you need to do to make sure that it is safe to return home.
You first need to consult with fire authorities and ask them if it is safe to return to your home after a wildfire. If they give the go signal you can already go back home. Also, be sure to ask if the water in your area is safe to drink or not.
Wear a certified respirator dust mask so you won’t inhale any harmful dust particles.
When traveling back home, you should avoid going near charred trees or live embers. The ground in these areas could still contain heat pockets that could cause another wildfire or burn you.
Once back home, the first thing you need to do is to take caution when entering your property and house since there might still be some flare-ups that could occur.
Inspect the ground in your property for smoldering stumps or hot spots. Douse them with water to eliminate them and prevent another fire from starting.
You also need to inspect the roof and exterior of the house. Make sure there aren’t any sparks or embers present.
Once inside, you also need to inspect the attic, basement, or any other hidden areas of your house to make sure there aren’t any embers.
You also need to take photos of property damage and do an inventory of items or furniture damaged and contact your insurance company. Just a little extra bonus I’ll include here from a posting on Reddit I found awhile back. It provides information from a previous insurance employee and he provided tips to ensure you get money for everything you legally are entitled to from your insurance company. Click this link to view the information posted on Reddit.
Keep on inspecting outside and inside your home for a few days to ensure there are no more signs of embers or sparks.
Consider getting flood insurance as well since forest fires usually change the landscape of your community. Without vegetation, the risk of flash floods increases dramatically.
Contact local authorities in case you see potential danger.
Wildfires are an issue that is becoming increasingly more common as fires have increased throughout many parts of the world, especially in North America. Though local governments try their best to make sure that wildfires are prevented, mother nature cannot be contained which is why you’ve got to prepare your home and your family if you live in a fire-prone area.
If you have any thoughts or additional tips that could be useful, please post those in the comment section as I learn so much from the community. If you enjoyed the article, please share it on social media.