Wildfires are no stranger to California homeowners, but no matter where you live, it's likely that the threat of a fire can occur. However, if you have taken precautions, there is a good chance you can prevent a fire from completely destroying your home.
"There are certainly wildfire issues all across the nation. East coast, Florida, has fires every year," says Christopher Blaylock, Project Manager for Wildfire Education at San Diego Natural History Museum.
In San Diego, California, the Santa Ana winds cause tremendous problems during fire season. Just recently, the wildfire near the Palm Springs area took the lives of five firefighters while on the job.
It's a scary thought to consider that a fire can level your home in seconds. The best prevention is to know your environment, the risks of the area, and then prepare for the worst.
Some homeowners, who are building their own homes, never give it a second thought that where they are building could be dangerous.
"It's about a larger trend that is happening across the nation where there is increasing development into these wild land areas without necessarily the recognition that the natural environment has certain things like wildfire that may affect homes," explains Blaylock.
Blaylock and the San Diego Natural History Museum are hosting a series of workshops in March 2007 called, "Protecting Homes and Communities from Wildfire: Preventative Cross-training Education for the Business Sector," for businesses and professionals who work in and around home sites in the wild-land-urban interface.
"I used to work with the National Park out in Southern Missouri in the Ozark's National scenic river ways; their fire season is winter, that's when things get dry out there and that's when everything starts shriveling up and getting ripe for wildfire," says Blaylock.
As a homeowner you can begin to make your home fire-safe with a few simple tasks.
"There is really no one thing that you can do that will guarantee that a home will survive a wildfire," says Blaylock.
Instead he recommends looking at the big picture and protecting your home via several methods as well as understanding what can cause a home to burn.
Use Fire Safe Materials
When building a home or replacing a roof, use fire-safe and non-combustible materials. Look for materials such as brick, stucco, or Class A roofing that won't easily ignite and choose these over others. Also, use fire-resistant material to enclose the undersides of areas such as decks, eaves, and balconies that are located on slopes because, if they are left open, embers can land there and ignite a fire or flames can become trapped underneath the home.
Reduce Ember Penetration
It sounds a bit technical, but the bottom line is embers travel with the wind rapidly and to incredibly great distances. Homes in San Diego have burned because embers blew, maybe from a mile away, and then lodged into crevices of the home and ignited the house.
"When you're looking at your house [identify] where embers can get into the house or rest near the house and ignite something," says Blaylock.
Embers tend to land on leaf piles, or "they get into your attic through the vents or something like that and they get to the insulated materials and are able to ignite," says Blaylock.
Create a defensible/survivable space
Flames can get up to 100 feet high in extremely fire-prone conditions. "That's where the 100-foot clearance code comes from and it's important to understand that doesn't mean clear to the bare ground, but it's a matter of can you break up what we call contiguous fuels," explains Blaylock.
For example, if you have very dense, dry brush around your home that can become contiguous fuel should a fire occur -- the brittle brush can become a path for the fire to follow and burn.
"If you could break up every other bush, the fire can't necessarily travel through it as fast or as hot. Therefore as the fire approaches the home you can reduce the flame length and the heat that the house is exposed to by maintaining your home in such a way as to accomplish that. That is commonly referred to as defensible space or survivable space," says Blaylock.
Maintenance is extremely important. What is often the fire hazard is not the tree but rather the accumulation of leaves beneath it. The trees around a home can be beautiful, if they are well maintained; if not, what an uncared for tree leaves behind can be hazardous.
"If that particular tree, for whatever reason, has been neglected -- it isn't watered, so it's dry and it has very dry leaves -- maintenance is one of the biggest things homeowners can do [to prevent the loss of their home to fire]," says Blaylock.
Blaylock also recommends contacting your local fire marshal for information on protecting your home from fire. Additionally, he says always have an understanding of the environment you live in -- make sure you know how severe the fire-risk is in your neighborhood.
If you take the time now to make your home and its environment fire-safe, you'll be better prepared should a natural disaster occur and you'll likely have better odds of your home surviving it.