Reducing Your Home's Wildfire Risk

Sometimes the best thing you can do to protect the value of your home is to mitigate its exposure to risk.  This summer has bombarded the Pacific Northwest with uncharacteristically hot, dry weather that has dramatically increased fire hazards.  That, combined with water restrictions and leftover fireworks, makes for a dangerous scenario.   

While it’s not fun to think about fire prevention – particularly in the context of your own home, there are some important things you can do to help reduce the chance of fire devastating your home and property.

Landscaping

Wildfires may be the hardest for you to impact since they can originate elsewhere, but clearing underbrush and dead trees from your property helps reduce the volume of available fuel.

Keeping your grass cut also reduces the amount highly flammable material near your home, but your lawnmower is a potential ignition source, so take extra precautions when maintaining your yard.  Never leave your lawnmower parked in the grass after it has reached operating temperature; the residual heat from the engine is potentially enough to ignite the grass below.  Not to mention, the heat may be enough to kill your grass, even if it’s not enough to start a fire.

Another fire hazard in your yard (that may surprise you) is your juniper hedge.  Unfortunately, junipers are notorious for accumulating dead needles, often within the plant (where it’s difficult to see).  If removing your junipers isn’t feasible, at least trim out the dead portion and rake the needles from beneath the shrub.  Similarly, remove and dispose of the dead wood and needles from around your evergreens, as well as fallen leaves and dead branches from your deciduous trees. 

If you think about what bark mulch is (bite-sized wood nuggets), it’s no surprise that fire loves it.  Keeping it to a minimum (if you use it at all) is a good idea; instead, you may want to consider using decorative stone as a ground cover.

Firefree.org provides a free guide online produced by Oregon State University, Washington State University, and the University of Idaho to help you select plants and landscaping materials that may reduce your risk from wildfire.

Mechanical Considerations

Besides avoiding parking lawnmowers and other motorized equipment directly on grass, it’s also strongly recommended (if not mandated) that you use and maintain spark arresters on your equipment (including items like motorcycles, chainsaws, and weed trimmers).  Check the manuals for your equipment to verify that spark arresters are already installed and, if so, how to maintain them.  If the spark arrester is missing or broken, the added cost of installing or replacing one is still infinitely cheaper than the cost of rebuilding your home or community due to a wildfire.

If you need more information on spark arresters, the US Forest Service has a series of guides available at http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/programs/fire/spark_arrester_guides/.

Outdoor Entertaining

If you’re the outdoorsy type (or like to pretend you are for a few days each year), skip the campfire and charcoal grill this summer.  It’s too easy for an errant ember to escape, get picked up by the wind, and start a fire down the road; it’ll be raging before you even know it.  Instead of burnt marshmallows or freshly popped popcorn, bond with your friends and family over snacks that don’t require heat.  Even if a burning ban isn’t in effect where you’re camping, always have plenty of water on hand to completely extinguish fires – under no conditions should glowing or hot embers be left unattended .  And, while you’re at it, ditch the charming-but-flammable hurricane lanterns and candles.  Instead, use battery-operated LED lighting options to keep your camp out of total darkness…or, better yet, go to bed when the Sun goes down and wake refreshed in the morning. (Hey, it’s a thought.)

With Independence Day only just behind us, do everyone a kindness and refrain from using any leftover fireworks you may have until the Forest Service reduces our fire danger level to “low.”  (Even then, please use extreme care and follow safety precautions explicitly!)  If you happened to watch the Seattle area news over the holiday weekend, you most likely saw that there were a number of structure fires – both residential and commercial – that happened as a result of fireworks and/or carelessness. 

Storing Flammable Products

Be sure to properly store any combustible materials you may have.  Fireworks, fuel (gasoline, kerosene, etc.) and household chemicals should always be stored properly (and in proper containers), in cool areas, away from ignition sources.  Always keep aisles clear and free of trip hazards in storage areas so that flammable materials aren’t accidentally knocked over.  Also keep storage areas neat and tidy, with working smoke detectors; crowding too many items into a space reduces ventilation and may prevent you from seeing potential problems before it’s too late.

Final Thoughts & Resources

Fire is so dangerous and destructive that prevention requires everyone’s participation.  Do all you can to prevent fire and always call 911 AS SOON AS POSSIBLE if you see smoke or flames.  Don’t wait, thinking someone (including yourself) will be successful in extinguishing a small fire before it gets out-of-hand.  Your local fire department would much rather respond to a small fire (or the remnants of a small fire) than have to call in other departments for a raging wildfire.  Don’t put yourself, your neighbors or responding firefighters at risk.

For more information on preventing fires and keeping your home safe, please visit these websites or speak to your local fire department:

http://www.smokeybear.com/

http://www.redcross.org/prepare/location/home-family/prevent-home-fires

http://www.firewise.org/online-courses-and-education/online-courses.aspx

http://www.wfas.net/index.php/fire-danger-rating-fire-potential--danger-32

Stay safe out there!  We want you to be able to enjoy your home for many years to come.

Jennifer Matthews 08-Jul-2015 0 Comments
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