It only takes minutes. The colorado wildfires that struck last summer were a stark reminder of the unbelievable destruction that can take place in an obscenely short amount of time. Experts estimate that more than 600 homes were destroyed, causing about $450 million in damage due to the destructive force of Colorado’s fires
Across the United States, wildfires cause billions of dollars in damage per year. In 2009 alone, 78,792 wildfires occurred in the U.S., damaging nearly six-million acres of land, FEMA statistics indicate.
Southern California is also vulnerable, as the Santa Ana winds that blow through the fall and winter can cause utter devastation.
If you want to secure your home against a wildfire or brush fire, you need to take into account the building materials and design of your home and the placement of near-home vegetation.
Examine the following eight vulnerable spots, and find out what you can do to keep your home safe from a fire.
TARGET 1 Roof Coverings and Edge
Your roof covering and the edge are the most vulnerable parts of your home. These areas endure the most exposure to the elements: rain, sun, wind and so on. During a wildfire, this is the area most susceptible to embers.
Action Step: Know your roof’s fire rating. Class A classifies the highest rating, while Class C classifies the lowest. Even if you have a Class A roof, it’s vulnerable to wildfire if the roof has a complex number of angles. Embers can more easily collect in the joints.
The material of your roof covering also makes a difference. Rounded tiles may allow openings for not only birds and rodents to enter the roof, but flame exposure. If you have a round tile roof, then you should install bird stops. They won’t necessarily keep tiny embers out of the space, but it should significantly reduce the accumulation of combustible debris.
TARGET 2 Gutters
Similarly, debris can also collect around skylights and in rain gutters.
Action Step: Clear out your gutters before fire season, because the debris can easily ignite in a wildfire. A metal gutter can hold the debris in place, so that it burns up onto the edge of the roof.
A roof edge can be vulnerable depending on the materials the builders used and how well the flashing protects the edge. A vinyl (plastic) gutter will melt and fall off. The potential is there that the burning contents will ignite materials or vegetation on the ground.
TARGET 3 Attics
If you’ve ever gone up into your attic during hot temperatures, you know that this enclosure is usually hot and dry meaning that fire will spread easily here.
Note: The most secure type of attic is ventless, and the best way to make use of this is to build your home that way. If your home is already built, experts do not advise closing off your vents without considering moisture-related damage issues.
TARGET 4 Overhangs
Wider overhangs are more susceptible to wildfires, because they trap embers. However, they can protect the wall from the radiant heat. Action Step: Make sure you use ignition-resistant or noncombustible soffit materials in your overhang.
TARGET 5 Windows
An open window during a wildfire is a bad idea. No surprise there. Larger windows, however, are more prone to small cracks. Should a fire ignite the framing or cause enough temperature stress, the windows can shatter.Action Step: Opinions about window construction materials vary widely, but ideally, windows should have multi-panes, with one of the panes being tempered. Tempered glass is four times stronger and more resistant to thermal exposures. Also, make sure you have window screens. Fine mesh reduces the size of embers.
TARGET 6 Deck
Do you have materials stored under your deck? You may want to move them before wildfire season.
No matter whether your deck wood uses fire retardant or composite products, all these materials are susceptible to fire especially when combustible materials are around it. (You can find a listing of decking products that comply with California requirements in the WUI Product Handbook).
Action Step: The best thing to do with your deck is to keep it free of leaves and needles, including those that collect between the deck boards and side of the house. Also, be aware if you have any decaying wood, as this is more prone to ignite. And move items that can attract flames from underneath and around your deck.
TARGET 7 Sidings
You can divide siding into three categories: combustible (solid wood, plywood, oriented strand board, compressed wood fiber products), noncombustible (three-coat stucco, metal, fiber cement) and ignition-resistant.
Action Step: Make sure you have the siding of the noncombustible and ignition resistant variety, particularly in the trim and joints. In the latter case, sheathing can increase the time the fire needs to penetrate into the stud cavity.
TARGET 8 Vegetation
Not only do you need to maintain and use the most flame-resistant materials in your home, but you should worry about vegetation as well. “The most important thing that you can do to help your local firefighters to protect your home is to properly clear the brush located around the perimeter of your home,” said P. Michael Freeman, County of Los Angeles Fire Chief, in a letter posted on the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s website.Action Steps:
• Make a vegetation management plan this includes making certain your plants are watered and pruned.
• Create decorative pathways with stone to break up plant groups and make a “hardscape” that is less flammable.
• Replace patches of landscape with rock gardens or fire resistant mulches.
• Make certain your vegetation isn’t too near your home, as to allow fire to transfer from the plant to the house. You don’t want to have plants adjacent to your siding, under ventsor eaves, or under or near your deck.
• Keep your home free of fuels (dry leaves, grass, or dry vegetation touching your home).
• Clear vegetation from underneath your deck.
• Keep trees trimmed at least 10 feet from your chimney. Remove dead limbs hanging over your home
What Not To Eat In Your Damaged Home
The unthinkable has happened: Your home has caught fire, but you have made your way back into your home to salvage your belongings. Do you know what to do with your food?
- Canned Food: Even though you may think your canned goods are safe, bacteria can grow at high temperatures. You should discard them, even if they look okay.
- Packaged Food: Toxic fumes and chemicals can damage food stored in permeable containers such as plastic wrap and screw topped jars, so it’s best to toss them, too.
- Cold Food: Is your fridge okay? Check it for odors. If it smells funny, err on the side of being safe. Door seals aren’t airtight, so toxic fumes and chemicals can affect the contents. If the food has an off odor or taste, discard.
- Room Temperature Food: Again, toxic fumes and chemicals can affect these items (such as potatoes, onions or fruit). Toss them. If you want to save your canned goods and cookware, wash them in a strong detergent solution and then soak in bleach (one tsp. per quart of water).