The recent tragic loss of life involving 19 Hotshot firefighters from Arizona brings into focus the hazards that come with wildfire suppression and the risks men and women take to protect life and property.
Firefighters are tasked with protecting the growing number of structures between wildland and urban environments. Property owners can assist firefighters and improve their safety by preparing their structures and landscaping for the possibility of a wildfire.
The likelihood of a home burning is directly related to the amount of flammable material near it. The home and landscape near it are called the home ignition zone. A few hours of light-duty yard work are well worth the effort to protect this area. Consider the following tips to lessen the chance of a fire starting in your home ignition zone.
Replace wood roofs with fire-resistant roofing material. Enclose the eaves of your home with soffits and screen openings with 1/8" galvanized mesh. This will reduce the chances that blowing embers could start a fire in an attic space.
During a fire, burning embers land in some of the same places that collect leaves after a wind storm, so it is important to regularly clear leaves and pine needles from the valleys of roofs, gutters and deck corners.
Remove debris from the yard and mow, irrigate and prune. The first 3 to 5 feet from the home should be a no-burn zone consisting of pavers, concrete or small stature, succulent plants. Sixty to 100 feet out, the landscape should be clean and green, with dead leaves, needles and twigs removed. There should be few trees and shrubs in this zone, and trees should be pruned up. To be effective, this must be done on a regular basis, depending on the type and amount of vegetation.
Select appropriate species to grow in the home ignition zone. Evergreens and scrub oaks tend to be highly flammable, while aspen and many broad-leafed ornamentals tend to be less flammable. Plants that are green and moist during the hottest, driest part of the year are best.
The wildlands beyond 100 feet should be thinned, and brush should not be dumped there. Many people do not control the land 100 feet from their home, but a plan can still be in place. Contact your neighbors and talk with them about safety and what you can do together. This includes individual neighbors, but may also include government neighbors like the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management.
Keep firewood, construction material and other flammable items at least 30 feet from your home. Be sure propane tanks are located at least 100 feet from any structure, and clear vegetation 10 feet around them.
Make sure emergency personnel can easily locate and identify your home. Be sure house numbers are clearly marked and visible.
Provide enough overhead and turnaround space for the entering and exiting of fire fighting equipment.
Take the time to protect your home. Homes that do not meet these minimum specifications are less likely to receive full consideration by firefighters since they pose an unnecessary risk to the safety of their personnel and equipment.
For a list of firewise plants and more information on landscaping to minimize fire hazard, visit USU Extension forestry's website at forestry.usu.edu or call 435-797-0560.
Direct column topics to: Julene Reese, Utah State University Extension writer, Logan, Utah, 84322-4900; 435-797-0810; firstname.lastname@example.org.