Are You Prepared? Protecting Your Home from Wildfires

Jun 26, 2023 | Affiliates

Homeowners often face the risk of wildfires, which can be triggered by lightning strikes or accidents, spreading rapidly and engulfing brush, trees, and homes. It is crucial to make adequate preparations to minimize risk and protect your family and property during wildfires.

Preparing Your Home for Wildfires

Here are ten essential measures you can take to safeguard yourself, your family, and your property during a fire:

  1. Design your home and landscape your yard with wildfire safety in mind. Opt for fire-resistant or non-combustible materials for your roof and exterior structure. Treat wood or other combustible materials with fire-retardant chemicals approved by nationally recognized laboratories like Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  2. Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees, prioritizing hardwood species over flammable ones like pine, evergreen, eucalyptus, or fir trees.
  3. Regularly clean your roof and gutters to remove debris that could catch fire.
  4. Conduct biannual chimney inspections and annual cleaning. Keep the dampers in good working order and install spark arresters on chimneys and stovepipes that meet the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards. Contact your local fire department for specific requirements.
  5. Install 1/8-inch mesh screens beneath porches, decks, floor areas, and your home’s openings to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating. You can use mesh screens to cover entrances to floors, roofs, and attics to prevent sparks and embers from entering your home.
  6. Install dual-sensor smoke alarms on each level of your home, particularly near bedrooms. Test them monthly and replace batteries annually.
  7. Educate your family on fire extinguisher use and keep one (ABC type) accessible and easily locatable.
  8. Ensure you have essential fire tools available, such as a rake, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, bucket, and shovel.
  9. Keep a ladder that can reach the roof if a family member needs to escape onto the top of a burning house.
  10. Move flammable items away from the house and outside the defensible space, including woodpiles, lawn furniture, barbecue grills, and tarp coverings.

Planning Your Water Needs

To have reliable access to water in case of a wildfire:

  1. Identify and maintain an adequate outside water source, such as a small pond, cistern, well, swimming pool, or hydrant.
  2. Have a garden hose long enough to reach any area of the home and other structures on the property.
  3. Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of the home and near other structures, with additional outlets at least 50 feet away from the house.
  4. Consider obtaining a portable gasoline-powered pump in case of power outages.

Creating a Safety Zone

Creating a safety zone around your home is recommended to reduce potential exposure to flames and radiant heat. Consult your local fire department or forestry office for guidance. Here are some general tips for creating a safety zone:

  • Rake leaves, dead limbs, and twigs regularly. Clear flammable vegetation and remove leaves and debris from under structures.
  • Remove tree limbs from the ground and maintain a 15-ft space between tree crowns.
  • Eliminate dead branches extending over the roof.
  • Request assistance from the power company to remove branches close to power lines. This will help reduce the risk of sparks and electrical fires.
  • Remove any vines growing on your home’s walls, as they can act as fuel for wildfires.
  • Maintain a regular mowing schedule, as shorter grass is less likely to catch fire and can serve as a firebreak.
  • Create a clear space of at least 10 feet around propane tanks and barbecue areas. Install a nonflammable mesh screen with a maximum mesh size of 1/4 inch to prevent the accumulation of combustible materials.
  • Dispose of newspapers and other rubbish in designated and approved locations. Following local burning regulations and guidelines is essential to prevent accidental fires and ensure proper waste management.

By implementing these precautions, you can significantly reduce the risk of wildfires and enhance your property’s and surrounding areas’ safety. 

To ensure compliance with local burning laws and regulations, here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Before burning debris in a wooded area, it is important to notify local authorities and obtain a burning permit as required.
  • Utilize an approved incinerator with a safety lid or covering with holes no more significant than 3/4 inch.
  • Clear at least 10 feet around the incinerator before initiating any debris burning.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher or garden hose readily available in case of emergencies.

During a wildfire

If advised to evacuate, follow the instructions immediately. Inform someone about your departure and destination.

If you observe a wildfire and haven’t received evacuation orders, call 911 to report the situation. Provide a clear and detailed description of the fire’s location, speak slowly and clearly, and answer any questions the dispatcher may ask. Refrain from assuming that someone else has already made the call.

If you are not ordered to evacuate and have time to prepare your home, FEMA recommends taking the following actions:

  • Arrange temporary housing with a friend or relative outside the threatened area if evacuation becomes necessary.
  • Wear protective clothing outside, including sturdy shoes, cotton or woollen clothes, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and a handkerchief to protect your face.
  • Gather fire tools such as a rake, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, bucket, and shovel.
  • Close outside attic, eaves, basement vents, windows, doors, and other openings. Close shutters, blinds, or heavy non-combustible window coverings to reduce radiant heat. Remove flammable drapes and curtains.
  • Shut all doors inside the house to prevent drafts. Open the damper on your fireplace but close the fireplace screen.
  • Turn off natural gas, propane, or fuel oil supplies at the source.
  • Connect garden hoses to outdoor water faucets and fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs, or other large containers with water.
  • Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near aboveground fuel tanks. Keep them on and douse these structures as long as possible.
  • Ensure that gas-powered pumps for water are fueled and ready.
  • Keep a ladder visible and accessible against the house.
  • Disconnect any automatic garage door openers to allow manual operation in case of a power outage. Close all garage doors.
  • Move flammable furniture to the centre of the home, away from the windows.
  • Turn on and leave all the lights in every room on. This will make your home more visible to firefighters if there is heavy smoke. 

By adhering to these guidelines, you can prioritize your safety and take proactive measures to protect your home during a wildfire.

Survival in a Vehicle 

A fire is a dangerous situation that should only be considered a last resort. However, if you find yourself in such an emergency, here are some guidelines to help increase your chances of survival:

  • Drive cautiously and maintain a slow speed with your headlights on. Roll up the windows and close the air vents of your vehicle. Be alert for other cars and pedestrians while avoiding driving through areas with heavy smoke.
  • If you need to stop, park your vehicle away from dense trees and brush that may pose a greater fire risk. Turn off the ignition and keep your headlights on. Ensure that all windows are rolled up and air vents remain closed.
  • Position yourself on the vehicle’s floor and cover yourself with a blanket or coat for protection.
  • Remain inside the vehicle until the main firefront has passed. It is important not to attempt to run away from the fire on foot.
  • During this time, your engine may stall and fail to restart. Air currents generated by the fire may cause your vehicle to shake, and smoke and sparks may enter the interior. The temperature may increase. It is essential to stay calm and focused.
  • Remember that the likelihood of metal gas tanks and containers exploding is relatively low.

These guidelines provide general advice for surviving in a vehicle during a fire emergency. However, it is crucial to prioritize your safety and follow any specific instructions or evacuation orders issued by local authorities.

If Trapped at Home: 

In the unfortunate event of being trapped inside your home during a fire, it is crucial to prioritize your safety and take the following measures: 

• Stay inside your home and avoid proximity to exterior walls. Seek shelter in interior rooms. 

• Close the doors but ensure they remain unlocked for potential emergency access. 

• Keep your family members together and maintain calm, as panic can hinder rational decision-making.

If Caught in the Open: 

If you find yourself in an open area during wildfires, seeking temporary shelter and protecting yourself from immediate danger is essential. Here are some guidelines to follow: 

• Identify a sparse area with minimal combustible materials, such as trees or other easily ignitable objects. In steep mountainous terrain, seek shelter on the back side of the slope. 

• Avoid canyons or natural “chimneys” where fire can spread rapidly. 

• If a road is nearby, lie face down along the highway or take cover in a ditch. Utilize any available materials to shield yourself from the heat of the fire. 

• If hiking in the backcountry, search for underground depressions with limited vegetation or fuel sources. Clear away any combustible materials around the area while the fire approaches. Once cleared, lie face down in the depression and cover yourself as best as possible. Remain in this position until the fire has passed.

These recommendations aim to enhance your safety during a fire emergency. However, always prioritize following the instructions and guidance from local authorities and emergency services in your area.

wildfires

Post-Wildfire Guidelines: 

In the aftermath of wildfires, taking certain precautions and following recommended procedures is essential. Here are guidelines to help you navigate the situation in a safe and informed manner:

Evacuation and Safety Measures: 

• If instructed to evacuate or if you feel it is unsafe to remain in your home, seek shelter at a designated public facility. 

• In the event of burn injuries, whether you or someone else is affected, immediately call 911 or seek medical assistance. Take measures to cool and cover burns to minimize the risk of further injury or infection. 

• If you stay home during wildfires, thoroughly inspect your roof once the fire danger has subsided. Extinguish roof fires, sparks, or embers, and carefully check the attic for hidden smouldering sparks. 

  • Maintain a vigilant “fire watch” by regularly checking for smoke and sparks within your house even after the fire has been extinguished.
  • Only return to your home when authorized by fire officials, and adhere to their guidance on safety measures.
  • If a building inspector has placed a colour-coded sign on your home, refrain from entering until you receive further information about its meaning and whether it is safe to re-enter.
  • If your home is deemed unsafe by a building inspector, arrange for a trusted individual to watch over your property during your absence.

Hazards and Precautions: 

  1. Exercise caution in burned areas as hazards may still exist, including hot spots.
  2. Evacuate immediately if you detect heat or smoke in a damaged building.
  3. Avoid attempting to open safes or strongboxes to prevent contents from igniting due to retained heat.
  4. Stay away from damaged or fallen power lines, poles, and wires.
  5. Identify and mark ash pits, warning others to avoid them.
  6. Keep pets under control as hidden embers and hot spots can harm them.
  7. Follow public health guidance for safe cleanup of fire ash and use masks when necessary.
  8. Dampen debris to minimize inhalation of dust particles.
  9. Wear leather gloves and sturdy shoes with heavy soles to protect hands and feet.
  10. Dispose of cleaning products, paint, batteries, and damaged fuel containers properly.
  11. Discard any food exposed to heat, smoke, or soot.
  12. Avoid using potentially contaminated water for various activities such as washing dishes or preparing food.

By adhering to these post-wildfire guidelines, you can prioritize your safety and well-being as you navigate the recovery process. Always follow the instructions provided by local authorities and emergency services for your specific area.

Post-Wildfire Hazards: 

Wildfires of significant magnitude impact the landscape and ground conditions, amplifying the risk of flooding. Typically, vegetation is a natural barrier, absorbing rainfall and minimizing runoff. However, the aftermath of wildfires leaves the terrain charred, devoid of vegetation, and incapable of drinking water, creating a fertile environment for flash flooding and mudflows. 

These floods often surpass the severity of typical storm-related flooding due to the presence of debris and ash, which can combine to form destructive mudflows. Additionally, rainwater can gather soil and sediment from the compromised ground, further contributing to mudflow formation. It is important to note that the elevated flood risk persists until vegetation has been restored, which can take up to five years following wildfires. 

At Advantage Insurance Solutions, we are dedicated to ensuring your safety and that of your loved ones during a disaster. If you require personalized risk management guidance, please do not hesitate to contact us today at 1-877-658-2472.

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