6 steps to fire protection

Look to landscaping, driveway for solutions

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jul. 9, 2010

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Look to landscaping, driveway for solutions

Paul Bianchina
Inman News

As summer comes on, wildfires can strike anywhere, anytime. They move fast, and often with little warning. You can do a lot to minimize the risk that your home will become a tragic statistic should a wildfire ever come through your area.

Here are six steps you can take this year to help protect your home against wildfires:

1. Create a fire break
The first and perhaps most important step is to create a noncombustible fire break around your home. If you have noncombustible roofing material, the fire break should extend out for 30 feet in all directions. If you have cedar shake roofing, then extend the fire break to 50 feet.

To determine the layout of the fire break area, simply measure out from the edge of the footprint of your home's combustible materials. That might be the edge of the roof overhang, or it might be the edge of a wooden deck that's attached to the house.

Within that fire break zone, create a well-planned and well-maintained area that's as free as possible of combustible vegetation that could support the spread of a wildfire. For example, use fire-resistant landscaping such as lawns, moist ground-cover plantings, and low shrubbery, or hardscaping such as gravel, pavers or other noncombustible materials.

Any trees within the zone should be thinned so that they're no less than 10 feet apart, which helps prevent the spread of a fire from tree to tree, and dead trees should be removed as well. All remaining trees need to be limbed to a height of at least 6 feet, which helps prevent a ground fire from spreading up into them.

Dry grass should be cut to less than 4 inches high, and dead material should be removed or broken up so that a fuel bed isn't created.

2. Clear your driveway
If you have a long driveway that's more than 150 feet, you want to be sure that any overhanging trees are limbed up and back. There needs to be at least 13 1/2 feet of vertical clearance and 12 feet of horizontal clearance to ensure that fire trucks and other emergency vehicles are not impeded in any way.

You also want to make sure that vegetation is cleared back from the driveway for a total distance of 10 feet from the driveway's centerline on each side, creating a 20-foot wide total fuel break area.

3. Clear around the chimney
Sparks from a chimney that's connected to a fireplace or a wood stove are a real fire hazard if they get into tree branches. To keep that from happening, trim overhanging tree branches back a minimum of 10 from the chimney in all directions.

4. Clean up the roof
While you're at it, remove dead branches that overhang any portion of your roof. Not only are they a fire hazard, they're also very dangerous during a wind storm. If you're not comfortable with any of this type of limbing, hire an experienced, licensed tree-trimming company to handle it for you.

In addition to the trimming, remove dead leaves and pine needles from the roof and gutters. That also includes patio covers and similar areas. These leaf and needle buildups are extremely flammable, and a single spark or ember can quickly spread.

5. Move firewood piles
A pile of firewood or lumber that's stacked alongside the house can be a source of sustained heat during a wildfire. Firewood and lumber should be moved at least 20 feet away from the house during fire season. An even better solution is to build a separate enclosed shed for wood storage.

6. Don't use the area under decks for storage
That big open area under your deck or outside stairs is a very inviting place to store lumber, firewood, paint, gasoline and lots of other things you use outside. But fires can draft under those areas very easily, and having a stockpile of flammable materials there can quickly feed a fire.

Clear combustible materials -- including buildups of dead leaves and weeds -- from under decks and stairs, then enclose the area.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paulbianchina@inman.com.

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