Woodland settings are becoming increasingly popular as people relocate to rural areas, forests or remote mountain sites. Residents enjoy the natural beauty, but also need to be prepared for a wildfire.
Many homes in the U.S. do not survive after a major wildfire every year. Almost always, the ones that survive do so because their owners prepared for the possibility of fire, which is an unavoidable force of nature in fire-prone woodland areas. If it’s predictable, it can be prevented!
Often, wildfires start without anyone noticing. Fires are usually sparked by lightning or accidents. Fires spread quickly, igniting brush, trees, and homes. Prepare ahead of time to reduce your risk of being burned by a wildfire. Decide what to do if wildfires threaten your area with your family. You can protect your home, property, and family by following these steps.
Wildfire Preparedness Checklist
- Prepare a disaster supply kit and have a family emergency plan
- Consider wildfire safety when designing and landscaping your home: choose plants that can contain fire rather than fuel it
- Consider the use of fire-resistant or noncombustible materials on the roof and exterior structure of the dwelling, or the use of fire-retardant chemicals evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
- Plant tree and shrub species that are fire-resistant (for example, hardwood trees are less flammable than pines, evergreens, eucalyptus, and firs).
- Regularly clean the roof and gutters
- Inspect chimneys at least twice a year. 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 Standard 211. (Contact your local fire department for exact specifications)
- Install mesh screens of 1/8-inch beneath porches, decks, floors and the entire home. Cover the openings in the floors, roof and attic as well.
- Each level of your home should have a dual-sensor smoke alarm, particularly near bedrooms; test the alarm monthly, and change the batteries annually
- Explain where the family’s fire extinguisher (ABC type) is kept and how to use it
- A rake, an axe, a chainsaw or handsaw, a bucket and shovel would be useful as fire tools
- Keep a ladder that will reach the roof
- Consider installing protective shutters or heavy fire-resistant drapes
- Make sure all wood piles, lawn furniture, barbecue grills, tarp coverings, and other items around the house are cleared. Remove them from your defensible space.
- Establish and maintain an appropriate outside water supply, such as a small pond, a cistern, a well, a pool, or a hydrant
- The garden hose should be long enough for you to reach any area of the property and home
- At least two sides of your home, as well as structures nearby, should have freeze-proof exterior water outlets. If possible, install additional outlets 50 feet from your residence.
- Consider obtaining a portable gasoline powered pump in case electrical power is cut off
Prepare Your Home For A Wildfire
Creating a safety zone of 30 to 100 feet around your home is recommended. The area around these flames and radiant heat can be made safer by taking steps to reduce the possibility of flames and radiant heat exposure. Pine forests should have a minimum safety zone of 100 feet around homes. Your home may not be adequately protected if it sits on a steep slope. Please contact your local fire department or forestry office for additional information.
- 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
- Contact the power company to clear power lines from branches
- Remove vines from the walls of the home
- Mow grass regularly
- Clear a 10-foot area around propane tanks and the barbecue
- Use a screen made of nonflammable material with a mesh no coarser than a quarter inch over the barbecue grill
- Newspapers and rubbish should be disposed of regularly at an approved site and burned according to local regulations
- Ashes from stoves, fireplaces and grills should be placed in a metal bucket, soaked in water for two days, and then buried in mineral soil
- Place gasoline cans, oily rags, and other flammable materials away from the base of buildings, and store them in approved safety cans.
- Clear combustible material within 20 feet of your home and stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill
- Use only wood-burning devices evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL)
- Examine your homeowner’s insurance policy and make a list of the contents of your home
During A Wildfire
Do not hesitate to evacuate if you are told to. If you are facing a fire hazard, take your disaster supply kit, lock up your home and select an escape route. Observe how the fire and smoke are moving. Let someone know when and where you went.
In case of wildfire and you haven’t received evacuation orders yet, call 9-1-1. Do not assume that others have already called. Please describe the location of the fire and answer the dispatcher’s questions clearly and slowly.
The following are the steps you should take if you do not have to evacuate and have time to prepare your home:
- Plan to stay with a friend or relative outside the threatened area in case you need to evacuate
- Wear protective clothing when outside – sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and a handkerchief to shield your face from the sun
- Gather fire tools such as a rake, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, bucket and shovel
- Ensure that attic, eaves, basement and window vents, doors, pet doors, etc. are all closed. Removing flammable curtains and drapes is a good idea.
- Shutters, blinds, and heavy non-combustible window coverings should be closed 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
- Use garden hoses to connect to outdoor water faucets and fill any large containers such as pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, etc.
- Install lawn sprinklers on top of the roof and near above-ground fuel tanks, and leave the sprinklers running as long as possible to dowse these structures.
- If you have gas-powered pumps for water, make sure they are fueled and ready
If asked to evacuate…
- Make sure a ladder is in plain sight against the house to assist firefighters
- If the power goes out, disconnect any automatic garage door openers and close all garage doors.
- You should store valuable papers, mementos, and anything else “you can’t live without” in the car, ready for a 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
- If you have flammable furniture, move it to the center of your home away from the windows and sliding glass doors
- Make the house more visible in heavy smoke by turning on the outside lights and leaving a light on in every room
Helpful Resources for Wildfire Preparedness
- Evacuation Checklist
- Emergency Preparedness Checklist
- Emergency Ready Checklist
- Emergency Prep Printable
- Emergency Water Purification
- Disaster Preparedness Checklist