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Prepare Your Home for the High Fire Season – Get Ready Now!

With the high fire season sneaking upon us, it is never too early to prepare your house to minimize the potential danger.

Last month’s horrifying Colorado Springs Fire, with two lives lost, nearly 350 homes destroyed and 18,000 acres burnt, sounded an urgent alarm for fire prevention around the country. 

Close to home in Marin County, the Land of Golden Open Space, we have timely reminders about the hot and still air and the notices to residents such as from Novato Fire Department or West Marin firefighters' door-to-door reminder/inspection of home defensive space. Everyone is getting ready for the high fire season that’s here again.

Living in Marin, especially near open space or on the winding, narrow hill roads, we are constantly on "high fire alert" during the warm, dry summer seasons.  Our hearts race when we see smoke coming out of the general vicinity of our homes; wishing fervently our house is not in danger and our loved ones are safe.

With the state budget cuts, which deeply affected the state (also contributed to the severity of the Colorado Springs fire), county parks as well as municipal fire department budgets, it is with even more urgency that homeowners heed to the advice and guidelines on how to prepare your homes for the fire season during the next few months.

In 2008, San Francisco Chronicle published an article highlighting what builders in the Oakland Hills did while rebuilding homes after the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. The story said the fire killed 25 people and injured 150 others, destroyed 1,520 acres, 2,843 single-family dwellings and 437 apartments and condominium units. The economic loss has been estimated at $1.5 billion. Most damage was done in the first hour of the fire.

Along with the article, Chronicle included a partial list of checklist developed by (of all the places) Travis County, Texas about what how to prepare for a fire.

I combined that extensive list as well as items mentioned in a 2011 article by then Marin County Fire Chief Ken Massucco to prepare the check list below  for your reference.

Wildfire Preparedness Check List

The more "yes" answers you have, the more prepared you are in the event of a wildfire threat.

The House

  • Fire-resistant roof i.e. metal, tile, composition?
  • Non-flammable siding materials?
  • Home is located down-slope?
  • Wooden deck facing or overhanging level ground?
  • Large glass windows, facing level ground?
  • Deck, porch, vents or house screened to keep sparks out?
  • Chimney extending above the roofline?
  • Chimney spark arrester in place?
  • Roof and gutters clean of debris?

Around the House

  • A fire defensible space (D-space) zone of 100 feet?
  • Adequate clearance of weeds, tall grasses and brush?
  • Leaves raked?
  • Trees pruned 10 ft up from base of trunk or one-third of the height of trees if less than 30 feet tall? 
  • Debris cleared from beneath trees and near structures?
  • Tree limbs pruned at least 10 ft from roof or within 15 ft laterally from chimney?
  • House location or address clearly marked (3 inch letters)?
  • Small amounts of mulch used near wooden structures?
  • Firewood and other burnable items stored at least 30 ft from the house?
  • Clearing driveway of flammable vegetation 15 feet vertically and 10 feet horizontally from edge of a driveway. (For fire engine access and safety?
  • Making sure attic vents, the underside of decks and balconies are properly screened to prevent ember intrusion?

Access

  • Easy access to home by emergency vehicles?
  • Road grade less than 15% (not steep)?
  • Road wide and accommodating to two-way traffic?
  • Road straight with wide turns?
  • Large areas for vehicles to turn around?
  • Short driveway from main road?
  • Home area level and easily plowed or raked for fire line?
  • Multiple roads into and out of developed area for safe and easy access and evacuation?
  • Posting a clearly marked address sign with a minimum of 4-inch reflective numbers. During large wildland fires resources respond from throughout Marin and neighboring counties. Critical time can be lost if the street and address are not clearly marked?

Water Supply

  • Pressurized hydrants available?
  • Non-pressurized or dry hydrants available?
  • Water sources such as ponds or streams accessible?
  • Power lines buried and not susceptible to fire?
  • Well pumps maintained with uninterrupted electricity?

Ten Quick and Easy Steps to Prepare for a Wildfire

1. Cut grass and weeds, rake leaves and pine needles and remove yard debris and branches.

2. Relocate woodpile and left over building materials at least 30' from house.
NOTE: It is best to not locate the woodpile directly uphill or downhill of any structure.

3. Signs, address and access are well marked, and visible both night and day. Reflective numbering/lettering that is 3" or larger is recommended.

4. Prune dead and low-hanging tree limbs 6 to 10 feet from the ground around house. Remove all dead vegetation in brush and shrubbery.

5. Store all gas, oil and other chemicals away from the house. This includes propane tanks on BBQ pits.

6. Keep roof and gutters free from leaves and needles.

7. Enclose spaces under porches, decks, foundations and overhangs, and roof/attic vent openings with 1/8" metal screening.

8. Have garden hoses connected on all sides of your house.

9. Place tools (such as ladders, shovels, rakes and hoes) for easy access to fire fighters.

10. Check driveway for adequate clearance for emergency vehicles. (Both height and width).

Marin County retired Fire Chief Massucco provided an evacuation checklist as follows:

  • Critical medications.
  • Important personal documents, photos and essential valuables.
  • Prepare for pet and livestock transport.
  • Change of clothing and toiletries.
  • Cell phone.
  • An evacuation route map. With at least two routes out.
  • Drive your planned route of escape before an actual emergency during the day and night.
  • If you do evacuate, leave your lights on. This will make it easier for firefighters to find your house during the night or in smoky conditions.

For more information – Go to Novato Fire Department website, www.novatofire.org

Click HERE for information on Defensible Space and on Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Fire Safety and whether your homes are located in the WUI area and other related subjects.

* Disclaimer - This is one of my annual public service articles.  The article is intended to provide general information on the subject.  Readers who require specific advice should consult experts in the area of interest.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Carole Bennett July 29, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Excellent article, Sylvia. You truly are doing a service for our community by reminding us of emergency procedures. One thing I would add is to be sure to have all family members agree upon an outside designated person/family to be the contact point if communications fail (Aunt Susie, Cousin John). Cell phones have caused us to rely upon easy communications, but what if the cell phones are lost in the fire?
Sylvia Barry July 29, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Thsnk you, Carole. Will add the advise for next year.

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