As more individuals build their homes in woodland settings — in or near forests, rural areas or remote mountain sites, they enjoy the beauty of the environment but face the very real danger of wildfire. Every year across the U.S., major wildfires test homeowners and firefighters, some homes survive while many others do not. Those that survive almost always do so because their owners had prepared for the eventuality of fire, which is an inescapable force of nature in fire-prone woodland areas. Another way we think of it as, if it’s predictable, it’s preventable! Wildfires often begin unnoticed; usually triggered by lightning or accidents. They spread quickly, igniting brush, trees and homes. Reduce your risk by preparing now — before wildfire strikes. Meet with your family to decide what to do and where to go if wildfires threaten your area. Follow the steps listed below to protect your family, home and property.
Protect Your Home
It is recommended that you create a 30 to 100 foot safety zone around your home, within this area, you can take steps to reduce potential exposure to flames and radiant heat. Homes built in pine forests should have a minimum safety zone of 100 feet. If your home sits on a steep slope, standard protective measures may not suffice. Contact your local fire department or forestry office for additional information.
Create a Perimeter Checklist:
- Rake leaves, dead limbs and twigs, and clear out all flammable vegetation
- Remove leaves and rubbish from under structures
- Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns, and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground
- Remove dead branches that extend over the roof
- Prune tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet
- Ask the power company to clear branches from power lines
- Remove vines from the walls of the home
- Mow grass regularly
- Clear a 10-foot area around propane tanks and the barbecue
- Place a screen over the barbecue grill—use non flammable material with mesh no coarser than one quarter inch
- Regularly dispose of newspapers and rubbish at an approved site and follow local burning regulations
- Place stove, fireplace and grill ashes in a metal bucket, soak in water for 2 days; then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil
- Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans, and place the cans in a safe location away from the base of buildings
- Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home, and clear combustible material within 20 feet
- Use only wood-burning devices evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL)
- Review your homeowner’s insurance policy and also prepare/update a list of your home’s contents
- Identify and maintain an adequate outside water source such as a small pond, cistern, well, swimming pool, or hydrant.
- Have a garden hose that is long enough to reach any area of the home and other structures on the property.
- Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of the home and near other structure on the property. Install additional outlets at least 50 feet from the home.
- Consider obtaining a portable gasoline powered pump in case electrictrical power is cut off.
When wildfire threatens you won’t have time to shop or search for supplies. Assemble a disaster supplies kit with items you may need if advised to evacuate. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, duffle-bags, or trash containers. Below are some essential items to include:
- A 3-day supply of water (one gallon per person, per day) and food that won’t spoil
- One change of clothing and footwear per person
- One sleeping bag or blanket per person
- A first aid kit that includes your family’s prescription medications
- Emergency tools including a battery-powered radio, flashlight, and plenty of extra batteries
- An extra set of car keys, credit card, cash, or travelers checks
- Sanitation supplies
- Special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family members
- An extra pair of eyeglasses
During a Wildfire
If advised to evacuate, do so immediately. Take your disaster supply kit, lock your home and choose a route away from the fire hazard. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of the fire and smoke. Tell someone when you left and where you are going. If you see a wildfire and haven’t received evacuation orders yet, call 9-1-1. Don’t assume that someone else has already called. Describe the location of the fire, speak slowly. Describe the location of the fire, speak slowly and clearly, and answer any questions asked by the dispatcher. If you are not ordered to evacuate and have time to prepare your home, FEMA recommends you take the following actions:
- Arrange temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area in case you need to evacuate
- Wear protective clothing when outside — sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothes, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a handkerchief to protect your face
- Gather fire tools such as a rake, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, bucket and shovel
- Close outside attic, eaves and basement vents, windows, doors, pet doors, etc. Remove flammable drapes and curtains
- Close all shutters, blinds or heavy non-combustible window coverings to reduce radiant heat
- Close all doors inside the house to prevent draft
- Open the damper on your fireplace, but close the fireplace screen
- Shut off any natural gas, propane or fuel oil supplies at the source
- Connect garden hoses to outdoor water faucet and fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs or other large containers with water
- Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near above-ground fuel tanks, and leave the sprinklers on, dowsing these structures as long as possible
- If you have gas-powered pumps for water, make sure they are fueled and ready
If asked to evacuate…
- Place a ladder against the house in clear view to aid firefighters
- Disconnect any automatic garage door openers so that doors can still be opened by hand if the power goes out, and close all garage doors
- Place valuable papers, mementos and anything “you can’t live without” inside the car in the garage, ready for quick departure
- Any pets still with you should also be put in the car
- Place valuables that will not be damaged by water in a pool or pond
- Move flammable furniture into the center of the residence away from the windows and sliding-glass doors
- Turn on outside lights and leave a light on in every room to make the house more visible in heavy smoke
Practice Wildfire Safety
Every year wildfires destroy thousands of homes and businesses all over the United States. This is why it is so important to be aware of the potential for wildfires and to always take steps to prevent a fire from spreading. People start most wildfires, find out how you can promote and practice wildfire safety.
- Contact your local fire department, health department, or forestry office for information on fire laws.
- Make sure that fire vehicles can get to your home. Clearly mark all driveway entrances and display your name and address.
- Report hazardous conditions that could cause a wildfire.
- Teach children about fire safety, be sure to keep matches out of their reach.
- Post fire emergency telephone numbers.
- Ensure adequate accessibility by large fire vehicles to your property.
- Plan several escape routes away from your home, both by car and foot.
- Talk to your neighbors about wildfire safety. Plan how the neighborhood could work together after a wildfire. Make a list of your neighbors’ skills such as medical or technical. Consider how you could help your neighbors who have special needs such as elderly or disabled persons. Make plans to take care of children who may be on their own if parents can’t get home.
- Keep important family documents in a waterproof container. Assemble a smaller version of your kit to keep in the trunk of your car.
- Wildfires often begin unnoticed. They spread quickly, igniting brush, trees and homes. Reduce your risk by preparing now before a wildfire strikes. Meet with your family to decide what to do