Be Firewise: Wildland Fire Fighting by Defending Your Own Home

The Supply Cache Blogger |

It is true that wildfires are just that — wild. Wildfires are unplanned, unpredicted, and definitely unwanted, but if you live in an area that is prone to wildfires, don’t rely on good luck and brave wildland firefighters to come to your rescue. Many homes are lost each year to wildfires, and when a large wildfire rages out of control, there may be little you can do to prevent it. However, rather than sitting idly by, waiting and watching, take action to protect your fortress. Be firewise and defend your own home.

Fire is unpredictable. If there are weaknesses in your home’s fire protection plan, a fire can quickly reign superior and claim your home. By being proactive and aggressively defending your home, you can gain the upper hand in the fight against wildfires. According to Colorado State Forest Service, there are two main components that determine your home’s ability to survive a wildfire — the quality of defensible space around your home and your home’s structural ignitability.

Defensible Space

By creating wildfire-defensible zones, your home will be less vulnerable to falling prey to a wildfire. Defensible space is a perimeter around your home that has been modified to reduce the fire hazard and act as a defensive barrier between a wildfire and your home — and conversely, helps prevent the spread of your home fire from affecting neighbors or becoming a wildfire. The design and development of defensible space depends on several factors, including size and shape of home, construction materials, ground slope, surrounding topography, and vegetation. Here we will discuss the key elements that can be modified and implemented.

Zone 1

Zone one is the area closest to your home, extending 15 to 30 feet away from structures. This zone is where you should focus your most aggressive fire prevention efforts. No trees should be planted in this zone; grass should be neatly trimmed; and all dead vegetation, such as leaves and branches, should be removed. No firewood or other combustible materials should be kept in zone one. Do not use the area under decks as storage space.  If you have a screened-in deck, use metal screening to prevent an ember from igniting the whole thing.

Zone 2

Zone two should be a transitional area between zones one and three, where vegetation should be thinned and pruned. The purpose of this zone is to slow a fire down by providing something to burn, but spaced far enough that little damage is done, and the fire doesn’t reach zone one. In zone two, trees should be thinned to about 10 feet between the crown of each large tree. If small trees exist in clumps, groups of two to three small trees is okay as long as there is ten foot clearance between groupings. Remove dead trees in this zone and keep wild grasses trimmed to no longer than six inches. Propane tanks and natural gas meters can be housed in zone two but they should be 30 feet from any structure and on about five feet in nonflammable ground, such as a concrete or rock slab.

Zone 3

Zone three is wildland on your property. Although this land can be a dense forest, it should be maintained. The healthiest forest includes trees of various ages, sizes, and species. Dead trees should be reduced and removed if you are able. Although mowing and pruning is not necessary here, thinning is still recommended on a much smaller scale to reduce burning potential and promote healthy growth.

Structural Ignitability

The best time to address a home’s ignition risk is when the structure is still in the design phase. However, if you have an existing home, there are measures you can take to improve your home’s fire resistance. A few examples are choosing fire-resistant roofing materials and avoiding wood or shake shingles; by choosing siding that is non combustible and fire retardant. If you live atop a hill, it may be tempting to build a deck looking over the downhill, but wooden decks are not only highly combustible, but when they overlook downhill, they provide a place for radiant heat from a lower fire to be trapped and cause your house to ignite. Installing a concrete wall lower than the deck will help isolate the deck from the fire.

Previous fire suppression efforts and limited forest management have produced a dangerous accumulation of natural fire fuels. On your property, you can take proactive measures to prevent your home from burning in a wildfire. If you need wildfire firefighting equipment or emergency supplies, trust the expert suppliers at The Supply Cache, where 100 percent of Wildland Firefighter Foundation item sales is donated to the WFF, and 25 percent of Students of Fire goes to Colorado State University's Paul Gleason Scholarship Fund.