Updated: June 2015
Each year, thousands of acres of woodland and hundreds of homes are destroyed during a fire season that lasts from May to October, and in some areas all year long. If you live in the foothills, grasslands, or mountains, you're at risk.
The growing population in new communities that were once woodland areas is making wildfires even worse. This rapid growth places even greater strain on local firefighting forces, who can't place a fire engine at every home.
When designing your home, it's important to keep some things in mind. Select only materials and plants that can help contain fire rather than fuel it. Your roof and the exterior structure of your home should use fire-resistant or non-combustible materials. You can treat wood or combustible material used in roofs, siding, decking or trip with UL-approved fire-retardant chemicals.
When you chose plants for landscaping around your home, chose shrubs and trees that are fire-resistant. For example, hardwood trees are less flammable than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus or fir trees.
It's important to be proactive when protecting your home from wildfires. You should regularly clear roof and gutters of pine needles, leaves or other debris.
Inspect your chimneys at least twice a year and clean them once a year. Keep dampers in good working order and equip chimney and stovepipes with a non-flammable screen of ½ inch or smaller mesh (contact your local fire department for exact specifications.
You should also talk over safety procedures with your family. Teach each family member how to use the fire extinguisher and show them where it's kept. Keep a ladder that will reach the roof available too.
Also, remember these helpful tips to protect your home:
Install a smoke detector on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms; test monthly and change the batteries two times each year.
Consider installing protective shutters or heavy fire-resistant drapes.
Keep household items handy that can be used as fire tools: a rake, ax, handsaw or chain saw, bucket and shovel.
Place stove, fireplace and grill ashes in a metal bucket, soak in water for two days, and then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil.
Regularly dispose of newspapers and rubbish at an approved site. Follow local burning regulations.
Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans. Place cans in a safe location away from the base of buildings.
Use ½ inch mesh screen beneath porches, decks, floor areas and the home itself. Also use this mesh for screen openings to floors, roof and attic.
Creating a Defensible Zone
To create a defensible zone, remove all dry grass, brush and dead leaves at least 30 to 100 feet around your home. Homes built in pine forests should have a minimum safety zone of 100 feet. If your home sits on a steep slope, standard protective measures may not suffice.
Contact your local fire department or forestry office for additional information.
Additional steps to help reduce potential exposure to flames and radiant heat:
Remove leaves and rubbish from under structures.
Create a 15-foot space between tree crowns, and remove limbs that are within 10 feet of the ground.
Remove dead branches that extend over the roof.
Prune tree branches and shrubs within 10 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet.
Ask the power company to clear branches from power lines.
Remove vines from the walls of the home.
Clear a 10-foot area around propane tanks and the barbecue. Place a screen over the grill by using non-flammable material with mesh no coarser than ¼ inch.
Stack firewood at least 30 to 100 feet away and uphill from your home.
Clear combustible material within 10 feet of your home.
Use only safety-inspected and approved wood burning devices.
Maintain an emergency water supply that meets fire department standards. This may include:
- A community water/hydrant system.
- A cooperative emergency storage tank with neighbors.
- A minimum storage supply of 5,000 gallons on your property.
Clearly mark all emergency water sources and maintain easy firefighter access to these water sources.
If your water comes from a well, consider an emergency generator to operate the pump during a power failure.
If you are warned that a wildfire is threatening your area, listen to your battery-operated radio for reports and evacuation information. Follow the instructions of local officials. Remember, personal safety should always come first!
Back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape. Shut doors and roll up windows. Leave the key in the ignition. Close garage windows and doors, but leave them unlocked. Disconnect automatic garage door openers.
Confine pets to one room. Make plans to care for your pets in case you must evacuate. Arrange temporary housing at a friend's or relative's home outside the threatened area.
Know at least two exit routes from your neighborhood in case of emergency evacuation.
Wear protective clothing; sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a handkerchief to protect your face. Take your emergency supplies kit.
Tell someone when you are leaving and where you are going. Choose a route away from fire hazards. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of fire and smoke.
If you're sure you have time, take steps to protect your home.
Close windows, vents, doors, Venetian blinds or non-combustible window coverings and heavy drapes. Lock your door and always remember if you are advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
When wildfire threatens, you won't have time to shop or search for supplies. Assemble a disaster supply kit with items you may need if advised to evacuate. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, duffel bags or trash containers.
Include in the kit:
- A three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day).
- Food that won't spoil
- One change of clothing and footwear per person
- A first aid kit that includes your family's prescription medications.
- Emergency tools, including battery-powered radio, flashlight and plenty of batteries
- An extra set of car keys and a credit card, cash or traveler's checks
- Sanitation supplies
- Special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members
- An extra pair of eyeglasses
- Important family documents stored in a waterproof container
Special thanks to the California Department of Forestry and Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) for contributions in the development of this material.