The Student Conservation Association (SCA) is a leading provider of conservation service opportunities for youth. SCA volunteers, most of whom range in age from 15-25, annually provide more than one million hours of service in national parks, forests, and urban areas in all 50 states.
Members of SCA’s Fire Education Corps are specially trained in wildland-urban interface education, wildfire ecology and property evaluations.
SCA’s Fire Education Corps is a collaborative program funded by the National Fire Plan to help property owners in 14 states to protect their homes from wildland fire. Working in seven-person teams, over 200 college-aged volunteers trained in wildland-urban interface education and property evaluation are working with local authorities and homeowners to initiate community-wide efforts to reduce fuel loads and improve defensible space.
"What we try to do is educate the public on how to create a defensible space around their home," explains Chris Colligan, spokesperson for SCA. "We do this by attending public events providing free home evaluations where we make recommendations to the homeowner on how to protect their home. For example we may recommend trimming some limbs that are ladder fuels or to replace a wood shake roof with a composition or metal roof. When we have achieved some community interest we try to get out there and physically reduce some of their fuels.
"These fuels reduction projects are meant to be a community wide demonstration project. We try to get as many local groups and fire departments involved. The local fire departments, BLM, and Forest Service are a great resource to us, by directing us to areas that are in the wildland urban interface and are of concern to them. One of the resources we provide them is the development of an interactive GIS map that contains homes that we evaluate, their attributes, and a digital photo. We document fire truck access, water sources, and any other limiting factors that a fire department should be aware of."
The SCA Fire Education Corps have the following tips for all homeowners, particularly if they are located near wildlands:
- Keep roof, rain gutters and window sills free from pine needles, leaves, twigs and other dead plant debris.
- When building a house or replacing a roof, use metal or asphalt instead of wood shake or thatch.
- Tree limbs touching or near homes, chimneys or power lines should be trimmed back at least 15 feet.
- Trim evergreens 6 – 15 feet above the ground.
- Mulch, rock and other non-combustible hard surfaces make good fire breaks.
- Clear debris from underneath decks and porches.
- Installation of a sprinkler system inside the home can protect your home when you are away from wildfire and can also prevent a house fire from spreading to wild lands.
- Landscape with fire resistant vegetation- local nursery or Fire Education Corps team can provide this information.
- Keep propane and butane tanks as far from home as possible, trying for at least 30 feet. These tanks should also have at least 10 feet of cleared out vegetation around them.
- Where burning barrels are allowed, they should be kept covered with a non-flammable screen with mesh no more than ¼ inch so that embers don’t fly. There should also be a space of at least 10 feet should be cleared surrounded the barrel and they should be closely monitored while in use.
- Move woodpile as far away from your home as possible, at least 30 feet, and clear and area of at least 10 feet around the pile itself.
- Put spark arresters in chimney stacks to catch embers which may fly and start a fire.
- Clear dead trees, bushes and shrubs from around property.
- Remove dead plant material that collects inside of bushes, shrubs and trees.
- Install screening or have ways to cover vents so that fire embers cannot get into them.
- Break up continuous vegetation so that fire will not spread between bushes or trees.
- Use composite wood or other fire resistant material to build decks.
- Remove lint buildup from dryer vents.
- Replace wood lattices with those constructed of fire resistant material. Also, make sure that any plants growing up the lattices are fire resistant and free of dead material.
- Reduce ladder fuels (fuels that lead continuously from the ground to tree tops) by keeping trees trimmed up from the ground and separate different layers of vegetation by their distances from each other.
- Have 2 exits and sufficient room for emergency vehicles to turn around.
- Be aware of or create a water reservoir such as a swimming pool, a pond, or a small waterfall system.
- If you get your water from a well, consider an emergency generator in case of power failure.
- Use metal screens in windows and doors instead of vinyl or plastic.
- Screen underneath of decks, porches and raised walkways so that embers cannot get trapped beneath.
- Remove junipers and other fire-prone vegetation from against the home.
- Make sure that your house number is legible from the road and that street name signs are easy to find and read..
- Use fire retardant drapes or blinds inside of house. This is especially important on the side(s) of your house which faces significant fire fuels.
- Keep the lawn low- a maximum of 4 inches.
- Design an emergency fire plan with your family and practice with drills regularly.