5 wildfire preparedness tips for homeowners

(BPT) - Wildfires are already impacting communities in the Western and Southwestern United States even ahead of the fall winds that threaten to push them into more populated areas. Wildfires spread in hot, dry and windy conditions, so continuing maintenance and reducing fuels, especially in dense suburban communities particularly at risk, is key. The upcoming Labor Day weekend is the ideal time to improve your home’s wildfire preparedness.

Ninety percent of homes ignited by wildfire will result in a complete loss. Adapting a home to wildfire can be overwhelming, yet we must take action to drive down the devastating impacts of these events. Daniel Gorham is a firefighter and wildfire research engineer at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), a nonprofit whose wildfire research translates into actionable guidance for homeowners. According to Daniel, “We are not helpless against these fires. Now is the time for homeowners, neighborhoods and communities to map the journey to a more resilient home. This is so important, because firefighters simply can't be everywhere and protect every home during an active wildfire.”

One part of a home may be wildfire-resistant while another remains highly vulnerable, leaving the structure, and neighboring homes, at risk. To make the greatest impact in driving down that risk, homeowners should start by addressing the most vulnerable areas of the home and then continue with additional improvements paired with ongoing maintenance and debris removal.

Wildfire preparedness tips

Create a 0- to 5-foot home ignition zone – The first five feet immediately around a home is critical. It should be designed and maintained to keep fire or embers from igniting materials in this area and spreading to the home. Use hardscape like gravel, pavers, concrete and other noncombustible mulch materials in this 5-foot zone around your home.

5-30 feet – Do not plant vegetation aligned with the corner line of the home in the 5- to 30-foot zone. Prune trees so the distance between canopies is at least 10 feet, more if you’re on a slope. Space shrubs at a distance double the height of the shrub on flat terrain or triple the height on a slope.

30+ feet – Use this area for sheds and other accessory structures like gazebos and kids' playsets.

Remove items under your deck – Embers easily collect under decks, and if a deck ignites it will likely spread to the rest of the home and result in a total loss. Remove debris, vegetation like leaves or pine straw that may have collected underneath over the summer, and any items stored under your deck, like outdoor gear or lawn care supplies. Do not store wood on or underneath your deck. All of these materials can easily ignite and fuel a fire, putting your home at considerable risk.

Fencing – If you have fencing attached to your home that is made of combustible materials such as wood or plastic, replace at least the first 5 feet with metal or other noncombustible versions (including replacing combustible gates attached to your home). This helps stop fire from spreading from the fence to your home.

If you and your neighbor have fences that overlap, this creates a small gap between the fences where debris and embers can accumulate and ignite both fences. Additionally, the two fences together create more fuel for a more intense fire, increasing your home’s exposure to heat and burning embers. Talk to your neighbor and work together to take down any sections that overlap.

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