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The home and the area 0-5’ from the furthest attached exterior point of the home; defined as a non-combustible area. Science tells us this is the most important zone to take immediate action on as it is the most vulnerable to embers. Image by NFPA with funding by USDA forest Service.
The home and the area 0-5’ from the furthest attached exterior point of the home; defined as a non-combustible area. Science tells us this is the most important zone to take immediate action on as it is the most vulnerable to embers. Image by NFPA with funding by USDA forest Service.

Fire Safe
Fire Ready

Aug 29, 2019
by Vesta Copestakes

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By Vesta Copestakes

It’s on our minds and we won’t stop talking about it until the rains return. The sooner the better! We learned a lot after October 2017 but some of those lessons haven’t sunk in deep enough to get people truly prepared. 

There are still tall, dry grasses, dead limbs on trees, wooden privacy fences right up against houses, landscape mulch that all the fire services tell us is highly flammable and spreads fire in high winds. If we don’t take care of our home and land...who will?

At a recent presentation by CAL FIRE and State Senator Mike McGuire, we learned that the state of California is taking this all very seriously. They no longer consider us to have a fire SEASON. It’s ALL year. 

A U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. Photo: Charles Rosemond [Public domain]

CAL FIRE is replacing Vietnam era helicopters with Black Hawk helicopters. They keep airplanes loaded with fire-retardant rather than loading them when fires begin. They have more people-power than ever before, trained and ready. They send out crews for practice burns and evacuation drills in high-fire areas. 

The government is doing their part. How are they paying for it? McGuire says our state is fat on tax money from corporate and personal incomes, higher property taxes, etc. and we’re spending it on firefighting.

Hardscaping our Properties

There are still people who must be wishing and hoping that these fires will not return. Human beings are very good at imagining the reality we want instead of the one that potentially faces us. But messages from the California Fire Safe Council are determined to educate us on how to protect ourselves and our property...just in case. It would be wise to heed their message.

Basic Rules of Defensible Space

What people ask all the time is do they need a “moonscape” in order to feel safe. The 30’ of defensible space around a home makes people throw their hands up in the air in frustration. We have 5 feet to the fence line and if we’re lucky, we have 20’ to the back fence and 20’ to the sidewalk.

The key word is DEFENSIBLE. Can this space be defended?  And the key measurement is 5’ from structures...your house. Keeping that 5-foot perimeter free of flammable material is key to surviving a fire.

Corrugated metal fence panels.Radiant Heat will catch an object on fire when it’s hot enough and close enough. It creates it’s own wind so flames will go up and out in unpredictable ways. JUST the heat is enough to catch objects on fire, especially if they are dry and flammable...like decking, lawn furniture, propane BBQ tanks, shrubbery with dead wood, dry grass, leaves on roofs and in gutters, etc. Even a straw broom propped up against the house will catch a whole house on fire when it ignites. Stacked firewood under the deck? Gotta go. Lawn mower with gas in the tank...store it in a safe place! 

If you live where privacy fences run 5-feet between homes and butt up against your home...create fire breaks with metal gates, and sections of fence made of metal as well. Corrugated metal fences are safer than wood. Consider using them in the sections of fence that separate buildings. 


Ember Storms are small pieces of hot material that fly through the air during fires. We see little ones drift above a camp fire. Consider millions of them flying all at once.Embers are responsible for the majority of damage during wildfires! This happened in the October 2017 fires. Singed pages from books were found miles from home.

Ember Storms are small pieces of hot material that fly through the air during fires. Image by fsHH from Pixabay

Landscaping bark caught fire and flew, catching other things on fire wherever the embers landed. We’ll post a link on our website to the flammability of mulches test, but know that rubberized mulches, large bark and Gorilla Hair mulches are the worst.  

If the landscaping mulch is composted or very dense and damp, it’s better. Right up against your house, consider pebbles, gravel, bare dirt during fire season. You can always mulch it with compost when the rains start. 

Dry leaves falling from trees? Rake, rake and rake again. REMOVE them from your property! That green bin should be full every trash day! They not only catch fire at your house, they turn into ember storms and catch other homes on fire. Be a good neighbor...rake ‘em up!

Direct Flame. This is the scariest one of all. The house next to yours is on fire…now what? If you have prepared YOUR home with a safe 5-foot perimeter, you may make it through. Stories of people who installed sprinklers on their homes and turned them on before evacuating…worked in some cases.

We published a story of a Coffee Park home owner who saved his house while homes around him burned to the ground. Getting out the garden hose before you evacuate? Don’t risk your life to do it, but consider wetting down your property if fire is off in the distance if you feel safe taking the time to do it. Your life is far more valuable than your home!

Make sure there is NOTHING flammable up against your house! Change your vents to have less than 1/8” spaces for air so that embers cannot get sucked into your vent and therefore your house. So many people reported roofs catching on fire from the INSIDE! Those ember storms!   

Tour your Home with FIRE in mind.

ROOF: Rain is one thing, fire is another. You need a Class-A fire-rated roof! Inspect it for any place a hot ember can blow in and get stuck. Woodpeckers like to stash acorns in tight places...even power conduit, so look closely to see if any critter has violated your space for a winter stash.

VENTS: They are part of building codes to allow air to circulate between your roof and your ceiling. If your vents at the roof or along the perimeter foundation have holes larger than 1/8”, change them out for tight metal mesh.

WINDOWS: This can be tough on older homes. Heat can break a window FAST, so double-pane windows at a minimum, and tempered glass windows at best. And keep flammable vegetation away from windows to protect them.

A new home built to wildfire-resistant codes can be constructed for roughly the same cost as a typical home. Image: headwaterseconomics.org/wildfire/homes-risk/building-costs-codes.

SIDING: Chances are you are not going to replace your wood siding. What you can do is to create a non-flammable barrier around the base of your home at least 6” high. Whether you accomplish this with landscaping...see above... or fire-resistent material, such as hardy board, concrete tiles or blocks…make sure it doesn’t create a gap where debris can collect and cause wood rot or leafy debris build-up. You have to think long-term as well as short-term. 

DECKS: People have been known to replace their wooden decks with composite material or even tile. Wooden decks are asking for trouble. Embers land on them, ignite deck furniture and pillows...it’s a mess. People store things under the deck. There are paints that create a sold surface on decks, but the most minimal task you can perform is to keep it clean and make sure nothing flammable is under it or on it when fires are raging.

RAIN GUTTERS: This is probably the most vulnerable area on a home. Leaves collect on roofs and IN rain gutters. Getting a good gutter guard system will make this task a lot easier in the long term. The best systems are solid metal that don’t require cleaning of any kind, but they are expensive. Make SURE your roof and gutters are clean throughout autumn.

GARAGES: Keeping the garage door closed is good policy anyway, but when fires rage, it’s essential. We store all kinds of nasty things in our garage! If there is a space under the door, make sure it has a gasket that closes that space so no embers get sucked into your garage. Store combustible materials in a metal cabinet. If your garage door is powered by electricity, make sure you have a manual backup and know how to use it.

FENCES & GATES: We covered this above but it’s worth repeating. Fences need non-combustible breaks whether they are made if metal or open spaces. Wood fences function like candle wicks...fire travels along them and ignites the next surface in line. If that is your house...you’re next.

DRIVEWAYS AND ROADS: Country lanes are the most challenging. Keeping a minimum of 12-feet wide clearance for fire trucks is essential. If the fire engine can’t get to you, they cannot save your home.

REFLECTIVE ADDRESS SIGNS: Seems obvious but in the dark of night with flames shooting everywhere, finding you will be easier if your address sign catches light and can be seen. You can get these at your fire department. Order both vertical & horizontal ones so you have then in more than one place.

SURVIVING a Wildfire

It’s not impossible so don’t give up. In previous issues of the Gazette we published what you need in your Go Bag and other lists you can check off as you accomplish the task. If you haven’t taken care of those yet…do it NOW. 

Take your cell phone and record every room in your home and your entire yard and garage. Store all images in the cloud so that if you lose your computer or cell phone, you have proof of your possessions for your insurance carrier. Make copies (and photos) of every important document and put them in your Go Bag.  Yes, titles to your vehicles, home, trust or will..birth certificates...anything that would be a challenge to replace. When the insurance company asks you for a receipt for that expensive object, you may want to laugh at them because it went up in flames...better yet, put a copy in your Grab & Run box.

Surviving has as much to do with AFTER as it does DURING. People talk about how long it took them to find a place to stay. Emergency shelters are not pleasant places to be. You want a hotel room? You’d better have room on that credit card! Think ahead and think of everything you can do to protect yourself, your home and your family. It’s a large task but taking action makes you feel like you have some control. Anything is good.

 

Comments:

Aug 31, 2019
Vesta, your attention to this is fantastic! Thank you so much for giving it all of the attention possible! I realize how overwhelmed we all might feel at this point, so the support of community and the constant encouragement is so important for us mere mortals...Thank you again for everything you do for this community
- terrie kully

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