How do most homes ignite during a wildfire? A floating ember or piece of burning wood touches down on a roof, gutter, in a vent, under a deck, or on a porch and ignites leaves and debris, says the National Fire Protection Association. Or else, a surface fire simply takes the fast lane to your home via dry vegetation.
With that in mind, fortify your home like the castle it is with these 14 wildfire-repelling steps. But keep in mind that no product or technique is a failsafe against a raging fire.
Keep the Basics Handy
1. If you don’t already have working smoke detectors or haven’t tested the batteries recently, make that your No. 1 job. Now.
2. Have an easily accessible bucket, shovel (to dig a trench to protect against encroaching ground fire), and connected garden hose to help you defend the area around your home, plus one or two working fire extinguishers.
3. Keep gutters, porches, and the lawn free of debris, leaves, and fallen branches. If a fire threat is imminent, remove furniture and decorations from decks and porches, including welcome mats.
Landscape Against Flammability
4. Invest in rain barrels to capture rainwater you can use to help douse flames.
5. Use water from your rain barrel or installed sprinklers to keep plants well-irrigated and green. Green plant materials are less likely to catch fire from embers, says NFPA’s Michele Steinberg. Plant fire-resistant plants and shrubs, like irises, rhododendrons, hostas, and lilacs, which have high-moisture content. Your local Cooperative Extension Office can advise you on appropriate species for your area.
6. Remove tree branches lower than 6 feet — fires tend to start low and rise. For that reason, don’t plant shrubs directly under trees; they can combust and cause the fire to rise up the tree. By the way, spacing out all plants and shrubs is a good practice, too.
7. Remove tree limbs that extend within 10 feet of any chimney opening.
Set Up a Protective Perimeter
8. Create a 100-foot perimeter around your home, free of dry leaves, grass, and shrubs that fuel wildfires. Keep petroleum tanks, cars, and woodpiles outside of this safe zone.
9. Rethink your love of wood mulch, or at least don’t spread it directly against the house. Instead, lay a six-inch swath of decorative rocks closest to the home and then use mulch from there. This also helps repel insects, like termites, (bugs like wood) and facilitate rain water drainage.
10. If you have wood fencing around your home, replace any three-foot sections that attach to the home with metal or other nonflammable fencing material. A metal gate or decorative fencing piece is stylish as well as fire-unfriendly.
Shore Up Home Systems
If major home systems are due for replacement, it’s an opportunity to choose materials that do as best a job as possible fending off fire.
11. Cover chimneys and vents with flame-retardant mesh, available for a few dollars from hardware or home improvement stores.
12. Windows should be double-paned or tempered glass, if possible. Such models resist cracking, which could allow embers and flames into your home. Wood frame windows are also more vulnerable to fire, but replacing them with vinyl can be pricey. The “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Association of REALTORS® estimates the national median cost of replacing all wood windows on an average 2,450-square-foot house with their vinyl equivalents at $18,975, of which you’ll recover about 79% of that cost at resale.
13. Wood shingle roofs are the most flammable, but most roofs are made of materials like asphalt, metal, tile, stone, or other fire-resistant materials that provide good protection as long as they’re in good repair. Some metal roofing materials are very attractive. Although they’re much more expensive than asphalt, they can last as long as 50 years.
Some experts recommend spraying homes with fire retardants, which can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the product, region, and size of the project. But recent reports and studies have questioned the efficacy and raised possible health issues, particularly about the chemicals used in flame-retardant fabrics. Although you might have less exposure to chemicals used on your home’s exterior than those inside, toxicity issues could still be a factor.
14. Fire-resistant or non-combustible siding like stucco or brick provides the best protection against fire. Make sure your siding, whatever type, is in good repair, because if the plywood or insulation are exposed, the home is more vulnerable to flames.
Most important, if a wildfire is on its way, evacuate. And have an evacuation plan worked out with your family before the worst happens.
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