Wildfires continue to be a constant and deadly threat across North America, and the risk intensifies with soaring temperatures, strong winds and severe drought conditions. More than 78,000 wildfires scorch over 12.4 million acres across the U.S. and Canada each year. Many of these blazes destroy people’s homes as they continue to spread – stoked by high winds and feeding on parched grass, trees and shrubs for tinder.
The threat of a spreading wildfire is even more acute in zero-lot communities, where residences such as townhomes, patio homes, garden homes and other similar structures, are situated at the edges of property lines to maximize residents’ usable space. Since so many people live in these types of communities, it’s critical that property managers and HOA boards in high-risk locations develop and communicate fire prevention and safety measures to help protect homes, communities and their surroundings.
If you live in a wildfire risk zone, it’s very important that you learn what you need to do – and then do it – to reduce the risk of fire to your home. To get you started, we spoke with Brian Taylor, Executive Director of the Talega Maintenance Corporation, a private community in Southern California, who has extensive experience working with county and state fire authorities on fire prevention. Here, he offers eight proven tips and other wildfire information that will keep your family and property safe.
1. Clean your gutters.
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. And while we’re on the subject of cleaning…
2. Clean your roof.
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. And 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 will help keep roof fires at bay.
3. Obey the fuel modification zone.
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. Which leads us to…
4. Create a defensible space perimeter.
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. And beyond those 30 feet, you must continually remove dead wood, low-hanging tree branches and debris to avoid providing tinder for approaching flames.
5. Plant smart.
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. Top picks can include California Redbuds, French Lavender (Lavandula dentata), or Wild Strawberry (Fragaria chilolensis), or 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. But keep in mind that 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. For guidance, the U.S. Fire Administration suggests spacing trees 30 feet apart. And don’t forget to…
6. Prune plants and trees.
Shaggy and haphazard trees and plants are a major fire hazard, so be sure to prune your trees to a maximum height of 8 to 10 feet. 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.
7. Follow the rules.
Both your local fire department and your HOAs will enforce strict landscaping rules to help reduce risks and damage to your home and community if wildfires strike. Obeying the rules, attending information sessions and reading community newsletters can provide a wealth of information and resources to help keep your home and family safe.
8. Test your fire equipment.
Hopefully, we all know we’re supposed to check our smoke alarm batteries twice a year when we change our clocks, but it’s a good idea to make sure the alarm is working. Same goes for other fire warning and suppression equipment like fire extinguishers, ceiling sprinkler systems, and stairwell guidance system. Regular testing throughout the year will ensure they’re functional and up to date.
Wildfires are dangerous and unpredictable, but becoming informed about them 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:
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