Wildfire Preparedness

Last year, Colorado’s wildfire season made national headlines. Disaster tracking system InciWeb reports that large scale incidents like the Waldo Canyon, High Park, and Last Chance fires decimated more than 600 homes and led to the evacuations of tens of thousands of residents. In total more than 202,000 acres were burned by wildfires in 2012.

Despite all of that, the grimmest wildfire news to come out of last year was that this year could be a lot worse. The National Interagency Fire Center publishes predictive warnings every month. So far, their warnings for 2013 are similar to those in 2012. Extreme long-term drought conditions are worsening an already high risk fire season. The Rocky Mountain states can expect continued above average danger from wildfires. While some climate models are predicting a shift in weather which may lead to somewhat more normal precipitation levels this Spring, the potential for wildfire is still significant, and so is your district’s need to keep prepared.

Preparedness is Key

The best thing you and your team can do to stay ahead of wildfire season is to start preparing now. The threat of wildfires never went away with the winter. Last year, the Fern Lake Fire continued to smolder and burn even after being buried under more than a foot of snow, feeding on more than 800 years of built up fuel and debris.

The best way to think about wildfire preparation is in zones radiating outward from your structures. You can’t do anything beyond your property line, but you can stay informed. Keep abreast of wildfire news using services like the National Weather Service or your local news outlets. If you hear of wildfires anywhere near your home or district, monitor them closely using InciWeb or other resources. You will want to maximize the amount of warning you have in order to prepare your district ahead of an evacuation.

Inside your property line there is a lot you can do. Here are some tips for zones on your property:

30 feet or more from your building(s) – Consider this space to be your shield. Pick landscaping and ground cover that minimizes wildfire risk. Thin your trees and shrubs so that fires have a hard time transferring between plants. Pay attention to slopes, as fires travel uphill faster than downhill.

5 to 30 feet from your building(s) – Organize your plants into planters, so that they are clumped together instead of being dispersed across the property. If they catch fire, they’ll burn in a group rather than spreading the fire out over a wider area.

Remove or prune low tree branches that could transfer fire up trees. Keep shrubs away from trees to prevent trees from sustaining long burns. Ensure that no tree branches reach close to buildings. Keep lawn and green areas mowed to a low height to reduce the amount of combustible dry plant materials.

Try not to have wooden outbuildings like sheds, gazebos, or any other combustible structures in this zone. They would catch fire quickly and could produce tremendous fire hazards like embers which could bring the fire directly to your primary buildings.

0 to 5 feet – This is the area immediately around your buildings. Be sure to maintain any plants abutting your buildings very closely. That means keeping them well groomed and well watered. Choose plants that are suited to your climate, herbaceous plants that won’t create lots of brush or put off bark or droppings that could become extra fuel. Be sure to pick smaller, low lying plants that would present less risk of catching or spreading fire. Use noncombustible ground cover like gravel, rocks or concrete and brick. These materials deny the fire a pathway to your building.

Building Exteriors – Once a building catches fire, there may be little you can do to prevent it from being consumed, especially in hot, dry, windy conditions. If your buildings have exteriors that would be susceptible to fire such as wooden or vinyl siding, be sure to keep all plants out of direct contact with these structures. If possible, try to stick to noncombustible materials like stucco, masonry, or specialized siding.

Pick Class A fire-rated roof coverings like fiberglass singles or steel, clay or concrete tiles. Class B materials like wood shakes and asphalt shingles are less resistant to fire but can be chemically treated for better protection. Keep your roof and gutters clear of debris that could act as extra fuel. This would include patio covers, fences, eaves, verandas, decks, porches, awnings, or other structural attachments. Even when properly maintained these things can act as wicks, catching burning embers and spreading fire directly to your primary structure. Metal flashing or concrete bases can help keep those structures from contact with embers. Never, ever store combustible materials in sheds or under or on top of decks.

Building Interiors – Be sure to keep your crawlspace entries, vents and windows up to code, preventing embers and ash from getting inside. Upgrading to dual paned windows can help keep fire outside, as single pane glass can shatter under the heat of a fire and allow them inside.

______________________________________________________________________________

You can find more information about wildfire preparedness from these valuable sources, which we used to write this article:

Find lots of useful information about protecting your home or business from the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety: http://www.disastersafety.org

Pick and maintain your plants and trees using Colorado State University’s Extension on FireWise Plant Materials: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/natres/06305.html

Get disasters reporting information and frequent updates at the Incident Information System: http://www.inciweb.org/

Look up wildfire, drought and weather outlooks and trend information at the National Interagency Coordination Center: http://www.predictiveservices.nifc.gov/predictive.htm

Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.