Researchers are discovering that embers blown by the wind during wildfires cause most of the fires that burn homes, according to the Insurance Institute of Information (I.I.I.). In addition, homes less than 15 feet apart are more likely to burn in clusters. In such cases, fire is often spread by combustible fences and decks connected to houses, a study by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) found.
There are measures property owners can take to help mitigate the potential of loss from a wildfire. Among these measures is creating defensible space, which we discussed in an earlier blog. A defensible space is an area around a building in which vegetation, debris, and other types of combustible fuels have been treated, cleared, or reduced to slow the spread of fire to and from the property.
Making the Property Fire-Resistant
There are also steps property owners and builders can take to “harden” the structure to increase the chance of its survival in the event of a wildfire. These include the following, courtesy of FEMA and Ready, Set, Go!:
Nonstructural Protective Measures
- Regularly clean roof and gutters.
- Inspect chimneys at least twice a year, and clean them at least once a year.
- Keep the dampers in good working order. Equip chimneys and stovepipes with a spark arrester that meets the requirements of National Fire Protection Association Code 211.
- Use ½ -inch mesh screen beneath porches, decks, floor areas, and the home itself. Also, screen openings to floors, roof, and attic.
- Consider installing protective shutters or heavy fire-resistant drapes.
Structural Protective Measures
- Use fire-resistant or noncombustible materials on the roof and exterior structure of the dwelling, or treat wood or combustible material used in roofs, siding, decking, or trim with UL-approved fire-retardant chemical.
- Construct balconies or decks with noncombustible materials, and do not store combustible items underneath them. If there is a fire threat, bring any furniture inside.
- Box in the eaves, fascias, soffits, and subfloors with fire-resistant materials like treated wood, reducing the vent sizes.
- Cover exterior walls with fire-resistant materials like stucco, stone, or brick.
- Use double-paned or tempered glass for all exterior windows.
- Install weather-proofing around your garage door. If garage is attached to the home, make sure the interior door is solid and on self-closing hinges.
Buildings under construction or renovation are at their most vulnerable and weakest condition. Be sure to conduct a risk assessment, check structural plans and fire-protection features.
Before You Evacuate, If there is time, the following is suggested:
- Close windows, vents, doors, venetian blinds, noncombustible window coverings, and heavy drapes. Remove lightweight curtains.
- Shut off gas at the meter. Turn off pilot lights.
- Open fireplace damper. Close fireplace screens. Move flammable furniture into the center of the home away from windows and sliding-glass doors.
- Turn on a light in each room to increase the visibility of the home in heavy smoke.
- Back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape. Shut doors and roll up windows. Leave the key in the ignition. Ensure car doors do not lock when exiting the car.
- Close garage windows and doors, but leave them unlocked. Disconnect automatic garage door openers.
- Seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or commercial seals.
- Turn off propane tanks.
- Place combustible patio furniture inside.
- Connect garden hose to outside taps.
- Set up a portable gasoline-powered water pump.
- Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near above-ground fuel tanks. Wet the roof.
- Wet or remove shrubs within 15 feet of the home.
- Gather fire tools.
- Create a disaster plan that includes meeting locations outside the fire hazard area, communication plans and evacuation routes; include the evacuation of animals.
- Assemble an emergency supply kit (water, non-perishable food, first aid kit, flashlight, battery-powered radio and extra batteries, extra set of car keys, credit cards, important family documents including insurance policies, personal electronic devices and charges) as recommended by the American Red Cross.
- Make sure fire vehicles can get to the property.
- Clearly mark all driveway entrances.
- Install noncombustible street signs.
- Maintain a list of fire emergency telephone numbers.
- Install a smoke alarm on each level of the home, especially near and in bedrooms; test monthly and change the batteries two times each year.
- Keep an approved ladder that will reach the roof of the building. Do not use it if not comfortable on the ladder.
- Keep handy household items that can be used as fire tools: a rake, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, bucket, and shovel.
- Don’t wait to be advised to leave if there is a possible threat to the property or evacuation route. Leave early enough to avoid being caught in fire, smoke or road congestion.
Create an action plan for all family members to follow and rehearse it. During high-fire-danger days in the area, monitor the local media for information and be ready to put the plan into motion.
Sources: I.I.I., FEMA, Ready, Set, Go!