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Wildfire: Are You Prepared?

Wildfire: Are You Prepared?


More and more people are making their homes in woodland settings, rural areas, or remote mountain sites. There, residents enjoy the beauty of the environment but face the very real danger of wildfire. Wildfires often begin unnoticed. They can be ignited by the careless tossing of a cigarette, an unattended campfire, or from natural causes like lightning. They spread quickly igniting brush, trees, and homes.

Each year fire burns millions of acres of woodland across the United States.

We can better live with the land by learning about the natural areas we inhabit and what we can do to reduce our risk of loss if wildfire occurs. Homes that survive almost always do so because their owners had prepared for the eventuality of fire. In a wildfire, every second counts!

Safety Always Comes First in Fire Management

Click to Enlarge [Source: USFA]

For the fifth time in the past 10 years, the largest loss associated with fires and explosions occurred in the wildlands and for the second year in a row, it happened in Southern California, according to the National Fire Protection Association report on large loss fires in the United States.

The 2007 California wildfires destroyed 1,500 homes and over 500,000 acres of land. Nine people died as a direct result of fire and 85 were injured, including at least 61 firefighters.

No structure, or natural or cultural resource, is worth a human life.

When firefighters plan a tactic, the first question is always, “Can we do this safely?” If the answer is “no,” they will take another direction.

Fire Management Decisions are Based on Many Factors

Not all fires are managed the same way.

Responding to a fire may include using multiple strategies. The response could range from monitoring a fire that is beneficial to the landscape to aggressively putting out a fire that threatens people, homes, or important natural or cultural resources.

Decisions are based on:

  • • Safety for the public and firefighters,
  • • What is threatened by the fire,
  • • Forecasted weather,
  • • Fire behavior, and
  • • What the fire and land-use plans or objectives are for the area.

Firefighters provide the right response to a fire, for the right reasons, at the right time.

Fire Seasons are Becoming Longer and Fires More Difficult to Suppress

We are never really out of fire season. Fires can burn at any time of the year in different parts of the country.

Several reasons contribute to longer fire seasons:

  • • An abundance of flammable plants and trees,
  • • Climate change, and
  • • More homes and other buildings in fire-prone areas.

Even though the last two fire seasons have been mild in most of the country, firefighters expect future activity to increase.

In Fire, We All Work Together

Preventative fire safety
measures saved this home from a wildfire.
[Source: USFA]

Local, state, tribal, and federal firefighters all work together to keep the public safe and natural resources protected. Pooling our strengths, resources, and experience improves our effectiveness and keeps costs down.

Lean, Clean, and Green Zone

Clearing an area of 30 feet immediately surrounding your home is critical. This area requires the greatest reduction in flammable vegetation.

Reduced Fuel Zone

The fuel reduction zone will depend on the steepness of your property and the vegetation.

Spacing between plants improves the chance of stopping a wildfire before it destroys your home. You have two options in this area:

  • • Create horizontal and vertical spacing between plants. The amount of space will depend on how steep the slope is and the size of the plants.
  • • Large trees do not have to be cut and removed as long as all of the plants beneath them are removed. This eliminates a vertical “fire ladder.”

When clearing vegetation, use care when operating equipment such as lawnmowers. One small spark may start a fire; a string trimmer is much safer.

Remove all build-up of needles and leaves from your roof and gutters. Keep leaves from your roof and gutters. Keep tree limbs trimmed at least 10 feet from any chimneys and remove dead limbs that hang over your home or garage. You should also consider a screen over your chimney outlet of not more than 1/2 inch mesh.

Most Importantly—Be Prepared!

One of the best ways to protect yourself and your family is to have a working smoke alarm that can sound fast for both a fire that has flames and a smoky fire that has fumes without flames. It is called a “Dual Sensor Smoke Alarm.” A smoke alarm greatly reduces your chances of dying in a fire.

Make and practice a home fire escape plan and set a meeting place outside. Make sure everyone in your family knows at least two escape routes from their bedrooms.