Protecting your Home Against Fire Danger
We know that the wildfire risk is high again this year amid the current drought and continued impact of climate change. Knowing this, how can we protect ourselves, and our homes? Preparation and prevention are two main points in putting together a personal wildfire action plan. The Ready! Set! Go! brochure was put together by the Los Angeles City & County Fire Department and is designed to provide you with critical information on creating defensible space around your home, retrofitting your home with fire-resistant materials, and preparing you to safely evacuate well ahead of a wildfire.
One of the first, most important points is to create a defensible space around your property; essentially a buffer between your home and the native landscape. This space slows the spread of wildfire and improves the safety of firefighters defending your home. Defensible space composition varies, depending on vegetation type and topography. Three zones make up the required 200 feet of defensible space.
A home’s ability to survive a wildfire depends on the materials it is constructed of and the quality of the “defensible space” surrounding it. Defensible space is an area around a structure that has been cleared of flammable materials and landscaped with fire-resistant plants. This area acts as a barrier, slowing the spread of flames and giving firefighters time to save the structure. The size of the defensible space depends on the type of home and its location, but it should extend at least 30 feet from the structure in all directions. In addition to creating a defensible space, homeowners can also safeguard their homes by using fire-resistant materials. These materials, which include stone, stucco, and metal, are less likely to ignite when exposed to sparks or embers. When choosing materials for a new home or remodel, homeowners should consider their fire resistance. By taking these precautions, homeowners can greatly improve their chances of surviving a wildfire.
Elements of a Wildfire Ready Home
- Make sure your address is clearly visible from the road.
- The address needs to be a contrasting color to the surface that it is mounted on, so it can be seen.
- Cover your chimney and stovepipe outlets with a nonflammable screen of 1/8-inch wire mesh or smaller to prevent embers from escaping and igniting a fire.
- Tree branches must be removed within 10 feet of any chimney (exception: oak trees).
Deck/Patio Cover 3
- Use heavy timber or non-flammable construction material for decks and patio covers, especially within the first 10 feet of the home.
- Enclose the underside of balconies and decks with fire-resistant materials to prevent embers from blowing underneath.
- Keep your deck clear of combustible items, such as baskets, dried flower arrangements, and other debris.
Driveways & Access Roads 4
- Driveways should be designed to allow fire and emergency vehicles and equipment to reach your home (the current fire code requirement is 15 feet wide).
- Access roads should have a minimum 10-foot clearance on either side of the traveled section of the roadway and should allow for two-way traffic.
- Locked or electric gates should have a disconnect or a lock box.
- Ensure that all gates open inward and are wide enough to accommodate emergency equipment.
- Trim trees and shrubs above all roads clear to the sky, with the exception of Oak trees which only need to be cleared to a height of 13½ (or 13.5) feet.
- Have a fire extinguisher and tools, such as a shovel, rake, bucket, and hoe, available for fire emergencies.
- Install a solid door with self-closing hinges between living areas and the garage. Install weather stripping around and under the doors to prevent ember intrusion.
- Store all combustibles and flammable liquids away from ignition sources.
- Keep the garage closed whenever possible.
Home Site & Yard 6
- Ensure you have up to a 200-foot radius of defensible space (cleared vegetation) around your home. If the 200-foot distance is on adjacent property, contact your local fire station for assistance in obtaining adequate clearance.
- Cut dry weeds and grass before noon when temperatures are cooler to reduce the chance of sparking a fire when using metal tools.
- Landscape with fire-resistant plants that are low-growing with high-moisture content.
- Keep woodpiles, propane tanks, and combustible materials away from your home and other structures, such as garages, barns, and sheds (recommended 30 feet).
- Ensure trees and branches are at least four feet away from power lines. Notify your power company if this condition exists; they will complete the required work.
- Keep a working fire extinguisher on hand and train your family how to use it. Store in an easily accessible location (check expiration date regularly).
- Install smoke alarms on each level of your home and adjacent to the bedrooms. Test them monthly and change the batteries twice a year.
Non-Combustible Boxed-In (Soffit) Eaves
- Box-in eaves with non-combustible materials to prevent the accumulation of embers.
Non-Combustible Fencing 7
- Make sure to use non-combustible fencing to protect your home during a wildfire.
- Screen or enclose rain gutters to prevent the accumulation of plant debris.
- Your roof is the most vulnerable part of your home because it can easily catch fire from windblown embers.
- Homes with wood shake or shingle roofs are at a higher risk of being destroyed during a wildfire.
- Build your roof or re-roof with fire-resistant materials that include composition, metal, or tile.
- Block any spaces between the roof decking and covering to prevent ember intrusion.
- Clear pine needles, leaves, and other debris from your roof and gutters.
- Cut any tree branches within 10 feet of your roof.
- Vents on homes are particularly vulnerable to flying embers.
- All vent openings should be covered with 1/8-inch or smaller metal mesh. Do not use fiberglass or plastic mesh because they can melt and burn.
- Attic vents in eaves or cornices should be baffled or otherwise to prevent ember intrusion (mesh is not enough).
- Wood products, such as boards, panels, or shingles, are common siding materials. However, they are combustible and not good choices for fire-prone areas.
- Build or remodel with fire-resistant building materials, such as brick, cement, masonry, or stucco.
- Be sure to extend materials from foundation to roof.
Water Supply 10
- Have multiple garden hoses that are long enough to reach any area of your home and other structures on your property.
- Heat from a wildfire can cause windows to break even before the home ignites. This allows burning embers to enter and start internal fires. Single-paned and large windows are particularly vulnerable.
- Install dual-paned windows with an exterior pane of tempered glass to reduce the chance of breakage in a fire.
- Limit the size and number of windows in your home that faces large areas of vegetation.
- Ensure that your family knows where your gas, electric, and water main shut-off controls are and how to safely shut them down in an emergency.
For more information on the topic and for a step-by-step guide on how to create your own personal wildfire action plan, read the full Ready! Set! Go! brochure provided by the Los Angeles City & County Fire Department, let’s all do our part and protect the homes and state we love!