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Colorado Blazes Are a Warning For The West

28 Jun

If you haven’t noticed already, it’s fire season in the Western U.S. While Southeastern states are facing tropical storms and flooding, the West is beginning to see the effects of an incredibly dry winter and warm weather.

The LA Times reported this morning that though the fire season is still in its early stages, many Western states have already been hit hard. Record temperatures and a lack of rain have created especially dry fuel conditions, and more than 1.5 million acres of land have been consumed by fires. Among the states affected have been Arizona, California, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. About 29 large active fires are currently being fought, officials said.

Although the Waldo Canyon fire has received the most attention in recent days because of the number of people in possible danger, the biggest blaze in the state is the High Park fire near Fort Collins, north of Denver. The High Park fire has burned more than 87,000 acres and destroyed 257 homes. One woman has been killed and about 4,300 people forced to flee. Flames are continuing to race farther into expanses of dead trees in the Roosevelt National Forest.

Homeowners can protect themselves from the threat of wildfire by creating a defensible space around their home and property and by taking steps to “harden” their home. See our posts here and here for information on these steps.

Remember that your home could be affected by wildfire even if you live outside of the interface area. Flying embers can reach homes up to one mile from a fire.

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Harden Your Home for Wildfire Preparedness

19 Jul

So, you’ve cleared grasses and brush around your home, trimmed up your trees and provided yourself with the appropriate defensible space. There’s another step you can take to prepare your home for wildfire, even if you live outside the urban interface area.

Flying embers destroy homes up to a mile from wildland areas. Hardening your home can prevent this.

Here are some tips from the CAL FIRE Ready for Wildfire site:

Roof: The roof is the most vulnerable part of your home. Homes with wood or shingle roofs are at high risk of being destroyed during a wildfire.
Build your roof or re-roof with materials such as composition, metal or tile. Block any spaces between roof decking and covering to prevent embers from catching.

Vents: Vents on homes create openings for flying embers.

  • Cover all vent openings with 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch metal mesh. Do not use fiberglass or plastic mesh because they can melt and burn.
  • Protect vents in eaves or cornices with baffles to block embers. (Mesh is not enough.)

Eaves and Soffits: Eaves and soffits should be protected with ignition-resistant* or non-combustible materials.

Windows: Heat from a wildfire can cause windows to break even before the home ignites. This allows burning embers to enter and start fires inside. Single-paned and large windows are particularly vulnerable.

  • Install dual-paned windows with one pane of tempered glass to reduce the chance of breakage in a fire.
  • Consider limiting the size and number of windows that face large areas of vegetation.

Walls: Wood products, such as boards, panels or shingles, are common siding materials. However, they are combustible and not good choices for fire-prone areas.

  • Build or remodel your walls with ignition resistant* building materials, such as stucco, fiber cement, wall siding, fire retardant, treated wood, or other approved materials.
  • Be sure to extend materials from the foundation to the roof.

Decks: Surfaces within 10 feet of the building should be built with ignition-resistant*, non-combustible, or other approved materials.

  • Ensure that all combustible items are removed from underneath your deck.

Rain Gutters: Screen or enclose rain gutters to prevent accumulation of plant debris.

Patio Cover: Use the same ignition resistance materials for patio coverings as a roof.

Chimney: Cover your chimney and stovepipe outlets with a non-combustible screen. Use metal screen material with openings no smaller than 3/8 inch and no larger than 1/2 inch to prevent embers from escaping and igniting a fire.

Garage: Have a fire extinguisher and tools such as a shovel, rake, bucket, and hoe available for fire emergencies.

  • Install weather stripping around and under the garage door to prevent embers from blowing in.
  • Store all combustible and flammable liquids away from ignition sources.

Fences: Consider using ignition resistant or non-combustible fence materials to protect your home during a wildfire.

Driveways and Access Roads: Driveways should be built and maintained in accordance with state and local codes to allow fire and emergency vehicles to reach your home. Consider maintaining access roads with a minimum of 10 feet of clearance on either side, allowing for two way traffic.

  • Ensure that all gates open inward and are wide enough to accommodate emergency equipment.
  • Trim trees and shrubs overhanging the road to allow emergency vehicles to pass.

Address: Make sure your address is clearly visible from the road.

Water Supply: Consider having multiple garden hoses that are long enough to reach all areas of your home and other structures on your property. If you have a pool or well, consider getting a pump.

Useful Links:
Fire Information Engine—Homeowner Wildfire Assessment
University of California—Homeowner’s Wildfire Mitigation Guide

Wildfire Preparedness Begins With Defensible Space

12 Jul

Over the past weekend, I happened to drive past the foothills of San Jose and noticed the amount of grass covering the hills, and the fact that most of the grass had long since lost its green.

This is a good visual reminder that, even with the long and wet Spring, fire season is still a major concern across the State. All that rain produced a bumper crop of grasses and the recent hot weather has served to dry the grasses and shrubs and prime them to burn.

Each year, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) works diligently to promote homeowner preparation for wildfires. The first major step in preparing your home for wildfires is by creating defensible space around the home. The following is an excerpt from the  CAL FIRE Ready for Wildfire site, which is worth a visit for any homeowner.

Defensible space is essential to improve your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire. It’s the buffer you create between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surround it. This space is needed to slow or stop the spread of wildfire and it protects your home from catching fire – either from direct flame contact or radiant heat. Defensible space is also important for the protection of the firefighters defending your home.

Two zones make up the required 100 feet of defensible space.

Zone 1

  • Zone 1 extends 30 feet* out from buildings, structures, decks, etc.
  • Remove all dead plants, grass and weeds (vegetation).
  • Remove dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof and rain gutters.
  • Trim trees regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees.
  • Remove branches that hang over your roof and keep dead branches 10 feet away from your chimney.
  • Relocate wood piles into Zone 2.
  • Remove or prune flammable plants and shrubs near windows.
  • Remove vegetation and items that could catch fire from around and under decks.
  • Create a separation between trees, shrubs and items that could catch fire, such as patio furniture, wood piles, swing sets, etc.

Zone 2

  • Cut or mow annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches.
  • Create horizontal spacing between shrubs and trees. (See diagram)
  • Create vertical spacing between grass, shrubs and trees. (See diagram)
  • Remove fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones, and small branches. However, they may be permitted to a depth of 3 inches if erosion control is an issue.
  • San Diego County requires 50 feet of clearance in zone 1. Check with your local fire department for any additional defensible space or weed abatement ordinances.

Plant and Tree Spacing

The spacing between grass, shrubs, and trees is crucial to reduce the spread of wildfires. The spacing needed is determined by the type and size of brush and trees, as well as the slope of the land. For example, a property on a steep slope with larger vegetation requires greater spacing between trees and shrubs than a level property that has small, sparse vegetation.

Vertical Spacing

Remove all tree branches at least 6 feet from the ground.

Allow extra vertical space between shrubs and trees. Lack of vertical space can allow a fire to move from the ground to the brush to the tree tops like a ladder.

Horizontal Spacing

Horizontal spacing depends on the slope of the land and the height of the shrubs or trees.

Fire-Safe Landscaping

Fire-safe landscaping isn’t necessarily the same thing as a well-maintained yard. Fire-safe landscaping uses fire-resistant plants that are strategically planted to resist the spread of fire to your home.

The good news is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to make your landscape fire-safe. And fire-safe landscaping can increase your property value and conserve water while beautifying your home.

For more information on preparing for a wildfire, visit Visit us next week for the next step in preparing for wildfire, hardening your home.