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Get your home and yard ready for wildfire season with these essential tips

Dakota Kim  – May 24, 2019 | Updated June 10, 2019

While Coloradoans can expect a less severe (but still threatening) fire season this year, Cal Fire is putting Californians on high alert:  “persistent near-drought conditions, combined with warmer temperatures and more severe winds” will mean worse and more frequent fires. What can you, as a homeowner and gardener, do?

For starters, watch Cal Fire’s “Ready, Set, Go” video, below, which outlines having an evacuation plan and building with fire-retardant materials. And update your knowledge on your local city and fire department preparation and evacuation instructions. 

Then, get your home and garden in shape. Regular maintenance is vital, because small fixes matter when it comes to fires. But if you’re serious about taking prevention to the next level, retrofitting or constructing a fire-retardant home are the way to go, with serious consideration for location and materials. Follow our tips to prep your home for the possibility of an approaching wildfire. 

Keep Note of Weather Conditions

Are heavy winds, high temps, and low humidity forecasted for your area? It may be time to spend an afternoon emptying roof gutters and cutting down brush, but you won’t know unless you pay attention to the weather. If you own land, monitor weather conditions with mobile apps like Windy, WindAlert, and Accuweather. You can even set push notifications and alerts to warn you of extreme weather conditions.

Remove Dead and Dry Vegetation

Remove all dead plants, grass, weeds, leaves, and pine needles from your yard, roof, and rain gutters, and from around and under wood decks.

Cut Down Thriving Brush and Vegetation

Regularly mow all annual grass to 4 inches or shorter within 100 feet of your structures. If you own a particularly large property or ranch, consider goats or sheep to keep the landscape well-pruned. If you are evacuating and have ample time, filling pools and other water receptacles, as well as soaking your yard, your trees and plants, and your roof, may be helpful to firefighters in the long term.

Trim Trees and Remove Branches over Your Roof

Keep tree branches to a minimum of 10 feet from other trees. Completely remove branches that extend over or touch your roof, and keep any branches 10 or more feet away from your chimney. Follow our guides to basic pruning cuts and how to prune mature trees.

Keep Mulch, Wood Piles, and Other Tinderboxes Far from the House

Relocate wood piles and mulch further than 30 feet from the house. If you are evacuating and have ample time, remove all combustibles, including barbecue grills and fuel cans, from your yard. Shut off all natural gas, propane, or fuel oil sources before evacuating.

Remove or Prune Flammable Plants Near Windows

Shrubs and bushes make nice visual statements or privacy borders, but they could catch fire and therefore should not be directly next to or under windows. Transplant or prune them so they are not close to windows.

Separate Vegetation and Furniture

Ensure horizontal and vertical spacing between shrubs and trees. Separate shrubs and trees from patio furniture, children’s swing sets, and wood piles.

Plant Fire-Resistant Plants

Plant groundcovers that are high in moisture and have a low sap or resin content. For plants, try rockrose, ice plant, and aloe; for shrubs, look to hedging roses, bush honeysuckles, currant, cotoneaster, sumac, and shrub apples. Hardwood, maple, poplar, and cherry trees are less flammable than pine, fir, and other conifers. See Cal Fire’s guide to a few different fire-resistant plants.

Repair Leaky Vehicles and Other Flammable Sources

Ensure that vehicles and propane tanks are not leaking. Quickly repair or relocate any sources of fuel or gas leaks. Don’t park on top of dry grass. 

Retrofit Older Homes and Build Fire-Resistant New Homes

First, choose your new home location carefully. Did you know that fire burns more quickly up a slope? A study showed that a home on a steep slope in a Santa Ana wind corridor, in a low-density area, is much more susceptible to fires. 

Next, think through some infrastructural elements. Resist exposed wood whenever possible. Eliminate vents and roof overhangs where embers can land and ignite. If you can’t eliminate vents entirely, replace them with smaller vents or install vents that meet new ember- and flame-resistant requirements. Cover vents with temporary covers or metal tape as a wildfire approaches. 

You’ll also want to choose materials carefully. Select Class A fire-rated materials like asphalt composition shingles, tile, and steel. Opt for stucco siding, enclosed eaves, plastered walls and soffits, metal bridges and features, multi-pane tempered glass, and fire-rated wood. 

Don’t forget how your home relates to its surroundings. Dig fire ditches around the house and construct bridges so that they are fire truck accessible. 

This University of California guide can help you consider various facets of your home to remodel.

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If your home has single-pane windows, replacing them with dual-pane windows will help guard against oncoming wildfire. The outer pane protects the inner pane by working as a thermal shield, which may keep it from breaking, even if the outer pane breaks. Dual-pane windows are also up to 10 times more insulated than windows with single panes, can lower energy costs and reduce outside noise.
Window frame materials should be considered when taking steps to protect your home from wildfire. Metal frames are low-cost, strong, lightweight, and almost care free. They’re also fire resistant, making them a good choice for wildfire protection. #homehardening #WildFireReady #readysetgo #readyforwildfire #vegetationmanagement #DefensibleSpace #DisasterPlan #EvacuationPlan #disasterpreparedness #emergencysupplykit

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Install Sprinklers, Fire Hydrants, and Pumps

If you’re serious about living in wildfire country, install sprinklers, fire hydrants, water pumps and pools or other water sources. Automatic sprinklers on the roof or surrounding decks and structures could save your property in the event of a wildfire. A portable pump that can draw water from a pool in case hydrants lose pressure could be a lifesaver, if you keep it ready and available for firefighters to use.

Close and Seal Drafty Entrances to Structures

Small entrances like pet doors can create a draft. Close and seal all windows, vents, and doors during wildfire season. This includes guest houses, pool houses, sheds, and other small structures near your main home.

Get Aligned with the Fire Code

Develop a relationship with local firefighters and ask them to inspect your property once or twice a year to ensure it is up to California’s most recent fire code, as well as any amendments and additions. Before the inspection, assess your home with this checklist.

Make Firefighters’ Jobs Easier

Keep pathways and driveways free and clear so firefighters and fire vehicles can approach the property easily. Label your address clearly so it is visible from the street. Have hoses, aluminum ladders, shovels, rakes, buckets, axes, and saws available and visible from the street, lit by exterior lights, to facilitate firefighters’ task. 

Download the “Ready for Wildfire” App

CalFire’s Ready for Wildfire app is a useful tool for helping you prepare your home and your family. You can tick off checklists for creating your home’s Defensible Space, hardening your home, and creating an evacuation plan. You can also get customized wildfire texts and push notifications when a wildfire is within 30 miles of you, see a map of all current fires, learn about local wildfires’ sizes and containment percentages and watch wildfire preparation, and prevention videos. 

Have First-Aid and  Fire Safety Kits in Your Car and Outside Your Home

Purchase a first-aid kit and a fire safety kit, and store them outside your home in case of emergencies. Keep food and water supplies in an external shed location, in a car and at a neighbor or friend’s house.