By Gordon Williams
The changing season in Washington state means that milder, drier days are just ahead. It also means it’s time to renew your defenses against the coming wildfire season. The state saw over 1,600 wildfires in 2021, which burned more than 675,000 acres. There is no reason to think the 2022 fire season will be any less severe.
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to prepare your home and grounds against fire. For fire safety advice, look to the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the National Fire Protection Assn (NFPA) and the American Red Cross.
Here is a phrase that sums up all the advice: If it can burn, get it away from your home.
Start with the leaves and tree needles that collect on roofs and gutters. As they dry, they become perfect food for feeding a fire. Start your spring cleaning by sweeping every place in and around your home where flammable debris could collect. Don’t skip this even if you can’t reach the roof on your own. It pays to hire someone to do it for you.
Move anything flammable away from the house. That would include stacks of firewood, compost heaps. trash, propane tanks. You want nothing that could burn within 30 feet of your house, and propane tanks should be at least 50 feet away.
The same vegetation that can build up on the roof can collect under porches and decks. Clean it out frequently. Never store anything flammable under the deck or porch and seal all openings with heavy-duty metal screening.
Burning embers can fly considerable distances, spreading the flames and setting dwellings on fire. Make any necessary repairs to the roof and sliding, so there is no place for flammable debris to lodge, and no way for burning embers to work their way into your home. Use screening to seal vents and cover the chimney with screening to keep flaming material out.
Beware of vegetation close to the house that might burn. Plants that look good in spring may burn with the intensity of a gasoline fire when they dry out. Talk to your garden store about plants that are moist enough to stand up to fires. Beware of dried grass growing close to the house. Similarly, don’t let sagebrush or tumbleweed grow close to your home. If you do grow grass, keep it short and well-watered.
Break up large stretches of vegetation with paths, driveways, and walkways to slow the spread of fire, Keep vegetation away from sheds or a garage and far away from propane tanks.
Wildfires can spread rapidly by jumping from tree crown to tree crown. Minimize the danger with vigorous pruning. Eliminate what firefighters call a “fuel ladder.” That refers to plantings of graduated size close together — a low-growing plant next to a taller plant next to a tree. A low-growing shrub catches fire, and the fire climbs the ladder until trees are engulfed. Trim shrubs and low tree branches to eliminate fuel ladders.
Prune trees so no tree spreads its canopy closer than 10 feet from your home. You don’t want branches lower than six feet from the ground (and 10 feet is better). Trees within 60 feet of the house should have at least 12 feet between canopy tops.
Invest in a hose that stretches to cover as much of your property as possible. Use it to drench everything within reach should fire approach. Make sure your house address is well illuminated and easily visible from the street should you need emergency units to respond to a fire. If you have questions about fire-proofing your home, ask your local fire department for advice.
How Can You Help Your Children Prepare for a Wildfire?The Red Cross has created digital resources and videos on wildfires and other common hazards, including this video from our Prepare with Pedro series. These tools are an age-appropriate way for families and educators to help children be better prepared in an emergency. Please visit redcross.org/youthprep.
The National Fire Protection Assn is a non-profit organization that works to reduce death and loss due to fire. Go to the NFPA website at nfpa.org and look up the section on Preparing Homes for Wildfire. The state department of Natural Resources will introduce you to the Firewise USA program at dnr.wa.gov/firewise — a program that helps communities prepare for wildfires.
For more about protecting your home from fire, do a web search for the Wildfire Safety Checklist from the American Red Cross. Among its tips are:
- Make sure all family members know about what to do if a wildfire occurs.
- Plan and practice two ways out of neighborhood in case you must evacuate.
- Maintain an adequate water supply outside your home for use in an emergency. That could be a well, cistern, small pond or swimming pool.
- Set aside household tools you might need as fire tools — such as a rake, ax, hand saw or chainsaw, bucket and shovel. Use them to fight a small fire before emergency services arrive.
- If fire threatens, prepare to escape by backing into your garage or parking facing your escape route.
- If you do stay during a fire, keep doors and windows closed to keep, smoke out. If you have an air conditioner, set it to recycle or recirculate mode.
Beyond all the other damage a wildfire can cause, smoke can be dangerous — especially to children and seniors.
Please visit RedCross.org for additional checklists and advice on how to minimize the impacts of wildfires on your family and home.