With unpredictable weather throughout the year, it’s always a good idea to keep wildfire safety on your mind if you live in rural or semi-rural areas. Even if you’re a city dweller, there are things you can do to keep the human impact on wildfires to a minimum.
In my neck of the woods, the transition from summer into fall sees an increased danger in wildfires. Vegetation has been drying out in the heat and desert winds kick up, adding the dangerous element of speed to even the smallest blaze. We call it fire season.
Here are some tips to keep your house protected if you live in potential wildfire zones:
Brush Clearance - Maintain a 30 to 100 foot safety perimeter around your home. Make sure that all fire fuel like leaves or dead brush in this area are cleared. This includes on the roof and in the gutters. Also, check under the house or porch for unwanted debris. Lawns should be low and free from accumulated dry grass.
Tree Trimming - When it comes to nearby trees, use the standard of 15 feet as a guide. Tree crowns should be 15 feet apart. The lowest branches should be 15 from the ground. No tree branches or any other foliage should be within 15 feet of any chimneys. If there are any dead branches extending over your house, they should be completely removed.
Fire Extinguishers - Make sure you have at least one ABC (multi-use) fire extinguisher that is well maintained and fully operational. It’s also important to have a garden hose capable of reaching any part of your house exterior. You should also have a ladder that can reach your roof. Inside the house, smoke detectors need to be checked periodically and have fresh batteries.
Combustibles - All combustible materials should be in approved containers. That means gasoline, kerosene, propane, or anything else that might start or fuel a fire.
Regulations - If you’re ever in doubt about local regulations, check with your fire department.
Approximately 90 percent of wildfires are started by humans. People living in hazard areas and even those just visiting need to be smart about preventing a destructive and potentially deadly fire. Keep an eye out for things like:
Engine Maintenance - Lawnmowers and other engine driven garden tools need to be in top shape, and caution should be used on dry and hot days. A small spark can cause big problems.
Ashes - Ashes and unburned material from fireplaces, bar-b-ques, and other solid fuel stoves should be thoroughly mixed with water to ensure there are no remaining embers. Same goes for any campfires.
Cigarettes - If you smoke, do so only in cleared areas, and not walking or riding in a vehicle, so you can maintain control over where the ash goes. Grind the butt out in dirt or sand -- never on a tree. And double check that there’s no ember remaining.
Cars - In a car, make sure there’s no exposed metal contacting the ground. Tire rims, dragging exhaust, or chains can create dangerous sparks. I’ve even heard of someone’s hot tailpipe causing a wild fire just because they were parked in the dry grass on the side of the road for a few minutes. So remember that your car runs on an internal combustion engine and tread accordingly around nature.
It’s estimated that a burning ember can fly for miles, spreading a fire more quickly than firefighters can react. A single, small mistake can be devastating. Every year, the destruction sweeps over thousands of acres of land. With diligence, we can protect our homes if the threat nears. And with a mind toward prevention, we can lessen the possibility of starting these fires in the first place.