Friday, April 25, 2014

It's Time to Create Defensible Space Around Your Home

May is Oregon Wildfire Awareness Month, when fire educators spread the word on ways to prevent human-caused fires, as well as how to reduce the vulnerability of a home in the event a wildfire encroaches.

“Creating defensible space around your home is the single most important thing you can do to help save your home from wildfire,” says Interim Oregon State Fire Marshal Jim Walker. “The more you can do to make your home defensible, the easier it is for firefighters to protect it.”

When it comes to preventing wildfires, there’s a lot at stake – lives, personal property included houses and outbuildings, and the many values provided by Oregon’s forests.

“Simple prevention strategies will make the strongest impact in keeping your home, family and community safe,” said Kristin Babbs, president of the Keep OregonGreen Association.

Wildfires that occur in the wildland-urban interface often are started by human activity and then spread to the forest. Once underway a fire follows the fuel, whether it is trees or houses. Creating defensible space around a house is a proven way to make it less vulnerable to wildfire. Babbs pointed rural residents to the national Firewise Communities Program for tips. “Defensible space” simply means to:
  • Maintain the landscape around a home to reduce fire danger.
  • Provide safe access to firefighters so they can protect it.
In creating defensible space, Firewise advises to start with the house and work your way out:

Check the roof and rain gutters
Is the roof fire-resistant? When a hot ember cast by a wildfire lands on a tile, asphalt shingle or metal roof, chances are it will burn itself out without setting the house ablaze. But regularly clearing leaves or needles off the roof and out of the rain gutters is crucial to maintain fire resistance.

Remove fuel sources close to the house
The perimeter of the home and attachments out to about five feet are vulnerable if organic mulch, juniper bushes or other flammable plants are located in that area. A wind-cast ember or a creeping ground fire could ignite fuels in this zone and carry flames to the structure.

Maintain landscaping in the middle zone
Plants in the zone about 30 to 100 feet from the house should be low-growing and well irrigated. Firewise advises to:
  • Leave 30 feet between clusters of two to three trees, or 20 feet between individual trees.
  • Encourage a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees.
  • Create fuel breaks, such as driveways, gravel walkways and lawns.
  • Prune trees up six to 10 feet from the ground.

Spacing and pruning trees in this way inhibits a wildfire from climbing into the crowns and carrying flames from tree to tree, and eventually to the house. A fuel break can stop the advance of a fire by starving it of flammable vegetation.

Create an outer buffer
The zone 100 to 200 feet from the home requires less attention but still should be looked at for ways to create an outer buffer to wildfire. Trees may need to be thinned, though less intensively than those closer in.
  • Remove smaller conifers that are growing between taller trees. Remove any heavy accumulations of woody debris.
  • Reduce the density of tall trees so canopies are not touching.

Firefighter access
When they respond to a call, firefighters must consider their personal safety. Will the driveway into your home allow them to engage the fire safely? If not, prune trees along the driveway and trim back shrubs so that a fire engine can enter and exit without running a gauntlet of flame.

More tips on how to create defensible space around your home and protect it from wildfire can be found at: www.firewise.org.

Other Wildfire Awareness Month tips coming soon
During May watch for other wildfire prevention tips on forest recreation and activities around the home.

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