Wildfire season is approaching and it’s time to make sure you have done everything you can to protect your property. Firefighters must make snap judgments about which structures to try to save and which are too dangerous to defend. A defensible space is required to protect your home from approaching fire and to give some protection to the firefighters. Firefighters will risk their lives to protect your home, but not if you haven’t done your part.
First, don’t start wildfires. Ninety percent of wildfires are started by people. Some Colorado fires are started by lightning, but most are caused by campfires, cook fires, cigarettes or matches, fireworks, prescribed burns and arson. In the Colorado Mountains many fires are started by improper disposal of ashes. Fireplace and woodstove ashes can smolder for a week and a half. A strong gust of wind can ignite buried ashes. One Colorado wildfire was caused by a 20-year-veteran volunteer firefighter who buried ashes in a pit. He soaked and stirred the ashes, but several days later a strong wind fanned the smoldering ashes into a fire that consumed his home and 165 others. The humidity is so low in some places of the country that organic material in soil may smolder seeming to burn dirt. I witnessed a 12 gallon plastic planter with dry dirt that had a cigar put out in it three days later causing the plastic to melt from smoldering planting soil.
The second thing is to make the space around your house defensible. Clean away anything that might burn that is on or next to your house. wildfires mainly spread through flying embers. Pine needles and leaves on your roof or in your gutters can catch fire. This is even more of a problem if your roof covering is not fire resistant. Class A materials are the most resistant to fire and include fiberglass shingles and tile materials. Untreated wooden shake shingles have the lowest fire rating and take little to ignite.
Remove shrubs and trees within 10 feet of your house. Clean all combustibles from this immediate area. Trees and bushes within 30 feet of a structure need to be kept pruned with tree branches below 6 feet removed. Stack fire wood and store propane grill tanks, and other highly flammable materials Install propane tanks for home heating at least 30 feet away from your house. This provides a buffer zone for firefighters to defend your house. During an active fire your home will be evaluated if threatened. If you have prepared a proper defense zone no action may be required and precious man power can be used elsewhere. If you have a fair defensive zone firefighters may improve the zone and move on if possible. They may need to actively protect your property if weather conditions escalate the danger. If a functional defensive zone exists and it can be defended without a high probability of loss of life, firefighters will try to save it. If saving your house endangers their lives more than the house next door, they will put more energy into saving your neighbor.
Carl Brahe is a Certified Professional Inspector.