Halloween marks one of the best times I had when I was a kid. Being able to run door to door for free treats was special. Wearing a costume of your favorite cartoon or TV character always took a lot of thought and planning. The only bummer for me personally growing up in the suburbs outside of Chicago was having to wear long underwear and a heavy jacket underneath my costume because it was so cold outside. That didn’t slow us down though.
Halloween also reminds me that it’s fire season in California. With the Santa Ana winds and dry conditions, our state is ripe for devastating wildfires. San Diego County was very lucky last year that we were bypassed. We cannot depend on luck anymore. We have to be ready. Are you?
This is part one of six articles I will write in rapid succession. The four articles will include Preparing your Home for a Wildfire which is the today’s article to be followed with How to Prepare a Go-Bag and Making a Home Inventory. Then I’ll advise you what to do As a Wildfire Approaches, then What to do During a Wildfire, and finally How to Respond After a Wildfire.
So, what do I need to do to prepare my home for a wildfire? First, you need to make sure that your gutters are clean and free to debris. Windborne embers have a way of landing in gutters and if the gutter has dried leaves in it, this will naturally ignite a fire. Another more radical fix to your house is to seal the underside of the overhanging roof. Many fires become much worse when the fire from the dried leaves in the gutter gets underneath the roof line. There are ways to fill in the area under the overhanging roof with fire resistant materials.
Be sure to have trees trimmed away from your home, especially those that are actually touching the house. Trees have a way of acting like a matchstick but your odds are better if there is space between the burning trees and your home.
This seems like a no-brainer but make sure that your fire alarms and extinguishers are in good working order. I know that I currently have at least two fire alarms that are laying disabled on a shelf because when they beeped due to the batteries being low, instead of replacing the batteries, I simply ripped them off of the ceiling, disabled them, and went back to sleep.
I’ve already mentioned trees but another good idea is to replace old shrubs with fire-resistant shrubs and trees. Using rock, stone, crushed concrete, flower beds, and gardens for ground cover may create enough bare space to act as a firebreak. While this is no guarantee that your house will not start on fire, it increases your odds of keeping your home. Talk to a specialist at your home-garden store who may be able to steer you in the right direction when creating a new yard or replacing shrubs and trees in an older yard.
Creating defensible space is probably the most important thing you can do to safeguard your home. Making sure that trees, brush, and grass are away from your home is important but don’t forget to move a wood pile or any other flammable pile away from the house. If you live on a hill, extend the zone on the downhill side because fire races uphill quickly.
Put together an evacuation plan and if family members are separated, agree on a place to meet. If your planned meeting place has been evacuated, have a backup place or two. You may not have time to call each other on your cell phones and discuss where you want to meet.
Finally, as you remodel your home over time, consider doing so using fire-resistant materials such as non-combustible roofing, soffits, decking, and siding. Look into fire-rated glass or fire shutters for your windows. Talk to a knowledgeable contractor or even your local fire department for tips.