Know how to defend your home from wildfire

By Debbie Arrington

darrington@sacbee.com

September 15, 2015 05:31 AM

Devastating wildfires sweeping across California serve as a powerful reminder: Preparation makes a difference.

In particular, homes with “defendable space” have a better chance at survival than those surrounded by overgrown vegetation, according to experts.

How can you help protect your home against wildfires? Here are tips from the U.S. Forest Service:

  • Create a buffer zone of 30 to 100 feet consisting of fire-resistant plants, shrubs and hardscape (such as paving stones or stonework) around your home and other structures. That will prevent fire from spreading to buildings on your property. Keep those plants and shrubs low, under 3 feet tall.
  • Choose plants that are less likely to burn such as cotoneaster, cinquefoil and mahonia; they’re low in resin, oil or wax. Find other recommendations at http://cecentralsierra.ucanr.edu/files/88245.pdf.
  • Create a “fire-free” zone within 5 feet of the house using nonflammable landscaping material (concrete, rock, etc.) and high-moisture annuals or perennials such as sedum or daylilies that are less likely than other plantes to catch fire.
  • Space trees at least 30 feet apart. Use a mix of conifers and deciduous trees.
  • Prune off branches that overhang the house. Remove lower branches 6 to 10 feet from the ground; those branches can create a “fire ladder” for flames to burn up into treetops.
  • Remove dead vegetation, particularly within 10 feet of the house or under decks.
  • Remove leaves and debris from gutters. Clean leaves and debris off roof.
  • Mow lawns regularly. Keep landscaping watered and alive. Mulch regularly.
  • Consider use of rocks or low-water xeriscaping.
  • Create a “fuel break” – such as a driveway, gravel walkway or lawn strip – between your house and surrounding land.
  • Use fire-resistant or noncombustible materials on the roof and exterior of the dwelling, or treat with fire-retardant chemicals evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory.

If disaster strikes, be ready. Make a family communication plan in case of an emergency. Know how to stay in contact. Have ready and handy an emergency kit. Backpacks, plastic storage tubs or chests on wheels make these kits easy to grab and go.

Your kit should include:

  • Three-day supply of nonperishable food and 3 gallons of water per person
  • Map marked with at least two evacuation routes
  • Prescriptions or special medications
  • Change of clothing
  • Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses
  • An extra set of car keys, credit cards, cash or traveler’s checks
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
  • Copies of important documents (birth certificates, passports, etc.)
  • Pet food and water
    • Keep a sturdy pair of shoes and a flashlight near your bed

If your home is threatened by wildfire, be ready to leave immediately. If time allows, take with you:

  • Easily carried valuables
  • Family photos and other irreplaceable items
  • Personal computer information on hard drives and disks
  • Chargers for cellphones, laptops, etc.

For more tips, click on www.fireadapted.org and www.readyforwildfire.org.