Posted on Tuesday January 23, 2018
Flaming embers that go airborne are flying wildfire hazards – and if the wind carries them to gutters clogged with debris and sediment, it adds fuel to the fire. Reduce this risk by performing a thorough gutter clean-out to give the gunk the heave-ho, especially before summer heat or dry winter conditions set in.
Flying embers love the opportunity to land on a nice big roof – so much easier than trying to get a foothold inside a narrow gutter. If the roof is covered with flame-fanning dirt, dry leaves, tree branches and dust, you’ve got a conflagration waiting to happen. Regularly pressure cleaning your roof will help keep roof fires at bay.
California residents know that this area around your home – typically chosen by the local fire department based on previous fires and existing foliage and structures – serves as a critical buffer between your home and approaching wildfires. Within this zone, all flammable plants, trees and vegetation, both native and ornamental, must be removed, modified or replaced with fire-resistant and draught-tolerant plants.
Although the term is specific to California and isn’t the law in most other places, it’s still a good idea to take a look at the area around your home and eliminate the risks that you can if you live in a fire-prone climate. For example, if a tree that could catch fire has branches that loom over your roof, have them trimmed back, away from the building, to reduce the risk of fire spreading to your roof or remove the tree entirely.
Along with removing or replacing flammable plants, it’s important to create a defensible perimeter, or space perimeter, by pruning or thinning out trees and brush within 30 feet from your home. Beyond those 30 feet, you must continually remove dead wood, low-hanging tree branches and debris to avoid providing tinder for approaching flames.
If you live in an area that is at high-risk for fires, both your local fire department and your community association may have landscaping rules that will help reduce risks and damage to your home and community if wildfires strike. Attending information sessions and reading community newsletters about those rules can provide a wealth of information and resources to help keep your home and family safe.
Fire-resistant plants retain moisture in dry areas, so they’re typically recommended for residents and community associations seeking to add foliage to their homes or communities. Local plant nurseries and reputable landscapers will have advice on the best plants for your area; if your area is at high risk for fires, the plants that are native to your climate are likely to be good choices. If you live in a managed community, ask your community association manager for recommendations to safely beautify your yard.
As for trees, most are flammable, and flames can spread to homes by leapfrogging from one treetop to another. Pine trees, palm trees and various species of Italian cypress have proven to be the most combustible, so consider selecting other types of trees and plant them a safe distance from your home – and spaced at proper intervals. The U.S. Fire Administration suggests spacing trees 30 feet apart for safety. Again, your reputable landscaper or local nursery should be able to advice you on the right choices.
Shaggy and overgrown trees and plants are a major fire hazard, so be sure to prune your trees to a maximum height of eight to 10 feet. Make sure to do this before your driest season. If your community prunes common landscape areas annually or semi-annually, perhaps your community manager can look into offering this service to homeowners as well or refer homeowners to a trusted vendor who can.
At least twice a year, check all of your fire warning and suppression equipment. That includes fire extinguishers, ceiling sprinkler systems and stairwell guidance system if you’re in a high-rise. Regular testing throughout the year will ensure they’re functional and up to date. If you’re on the board of your community association, make sure that your property manager conducts regular inspections of this equipment in common areas. Your local fire department may also be able to help with equipment testing and inspection.
If a fire does threaten your community, it’s important to have an evacuation plan ready. Make sure that all members of your family know where to go and how to get there. As soon as a fire breaks out in the area, you want to make sure you and your family are prepared to leave. It’s important to keep your necessary documents including insurance paperwork, medications, non-perishable food, water and pet supplies in a very handy place so you’re able to grab and go with little notice. It’s also a good idea to have all of this information documented, scanned and backed up to an offsite or cloud storage service in case you don’t have time to collect everything.
If you are on the board of your community association, communicate the importance of evacuation planning to your community. Send seasonal reminders as appropriate, using all available channels: your community website, newsletter, in-person meetings, email and social media. A great property management company will provide your community with a 24/7 mass communication system that will allow you and your management team to provide all residents with alerts and critical information during a wildfire emergency.
Wildfires are dangerous and unpredictable, but understanding the risk and taking proactive steps to protect your home and surroundings can really pay off. For more valuable wildfire safety information and guidelines, check out the helpful resources below:
U.S. Fire Administration
Centers for Disease Control
American Red Cross
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Canadian Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Canadian Red Cross
Learn more about how a property management company can help you and your community.