Students’ Corner – 6 Ways to Prepare for the Wildfire Season

Posted: June 25, 2015 in Fire Protection, Fire Science
Tags: , , , , ,

by: Raquel Hakes

Wildfires. I want you to stop and think a moment. When I say that word – wildfires – what comes to mind? Maybe if you live in the United States, you think of the West. Maybe the word “wildfires” is synonymous with California or Arizona or Colorado. Maybe you are from Australia and mentally translate “wildfire” to “bushfire.” Perhaps you have watched news stories covering major fires or you took your kids to see the Planes: Fire & Rescue movie and that is really your only familiarity with the idea of wildfires.

I have lived in the East for over a decade and a half now, but I still go back to Arizona to visit my father’s family. They live far down south, close to the border with Mexico, near a mountain range. One year, I arrived, and the mountains were black. Everything along the side of the roads was black. I had followed the news on the wildfire closely from across the country, but seeing the devastation first hand was another matter. The Mexican restaurant that had stood a few miles down the road from my cousin’s house for several decades was gone. They planned to rebuild, but never managed it. We woke up to go hiking one morning, but the park we wanted to visit was closed. There was too much damage; downed trees, burned vegetation, blocked roads, and erosion. My cousin’s house was safe, but when I left, I could not help but wonder if the house would still be standing if the fire had been closer.

Even something as relatively small as a house fire probably seems far from manageable. You have your smoke alarms and maybe sprinklers. You try to clear paper away from your fireplace. You hope you remember to turn off the stove when you leave the house, and you extinguish your candles before going to bed. There are little things you can do, but once a fire starts, the task of extinguishing it can be overwhelming and most likely impossible for you. You have to leave it up to the firefighters and hope.

What about when a fire is so much bigger? What about when the forest or grassland around your house is on fire? Or you go to sleep, and it looks like the mountains are burning? And what if none of this has happened to you yet? Maybe you know that it is possible – not just out West, but many places – for a wildfire to occur.

Many people are not sure what to do if they live in a place with wildfires (for those in the U.S., these places do include Maryland, Florida, Massachusetts… it is not just the West). Perhaps they do not know the risk or, if they do, they do not know what effect their actions could have. If that is you and you are wondering, I have some good news: there are things you can do to keep your house safer, all of which are easily manageable.

Here 6 ways you can prepare for a wildfire:

  1. Find out your risk– This is a combination of how often wildfires occur in your area, how severe they can be, and how protected your house is or is not.
  2. Clean your gutters– This is a major way fires can start at your house from a wildfire! Firebrands, basically embers or coals, can fly out from the fire and land in your gutter or other places around your house. If you have a bunch of stuff in your gutter, it might catch fire and spread to the rest of your house.
  3. Rake your leaves– This follows along from point #2. Move the dry leaves (very flammable) away from your house. Even if you only rake them a few feet away, this can make a huge difference.
  4. Do not put your woodpile (or mulch pile) right next to your house or under your deck– Imagine the biggest bonfire you have been to. Would you want that next to your house? Probably not, so move it out further in your yard or into your shed.
  5. Plant smart– Some plants are more flammable than others. For example, plants that produce a lot of dead branches can catch on fire more easily. Junipers, hollies, and other coniferous plants are fairly flammable. Plant things that will not burn as easily, such as deciduous plants. If you are not sure what plants burn, a quick internet search gives a myriad of helpful results.
  6. Educate yourself– There are tons of resources out there for you, put out by the NFPA, Ready, Set, Go!, local fire departments, departments of natural resources, and more. Start looking and keep yourself safe!

What does the word “wildfire” mean to you? Maybe it still means a faraway place and maybe it means close to home. Maybe it reminds you of friends or family that have experienced a wildfire. Whatever the answer is, I hope you now understand that you have some control over what happens if a wildfire ever becomes more personal. A few little actions will go a long way to keeping your home safe from a wildfire. Wishing you good weather for raking and cleaning!

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