21 Ways to Protect Your Home From Wildfire

by Becky BlantonJuly 8, 2016

Bushfire approaching home at twilight

It may be flooding on the east coast, but it’s burning on the west. Thousands of homeowners are fleeing their homes, hoping fires don’t destroy them. Few homeowners know it’s possible to protect your home from wildfire with just a few smart changes.

  1. Clear combustible debris out to at least 100 feet from your home. This means get rid of leaves, brush, firewood, small trees, flowerbeds, and decorative yard ornaments, anything that could burn. Decks and porches pose their own problem, but using fire resistant materials, not wood, can help. 100 feet is the minimum. The clearer the area around your home the better chance fire crews have of saving it, so the more likely they are to stay if they see they could save the structure. This is called “defensible space” and can save your home.
  2. When buying a home, particularly in a rural area, think about location, location, location not in terms of the view, but in terms of fire. Don’t buy or build a home under a stand of trees or near an overhang where fire sweeping up a ridge will engulf the home in minutes. If you’re not sure what to look for contact your local Wild Land Fire Department and ask them to review the site for you.
  3. Bury electrical lines underground and be cautious with solar power. Birds and animals like squirrels and rodents can become grounded on electrical wires, catch fire and fall to the ground, igniting what firefighters call a wildlife ignition event. During testing of a new solar project in Nevada, 130 birds caught fire in mid-air from the solar mirrors.
  4. Clear out bird’s nests or cover areas where they tend to nest near or on your home, with wire. There have been several instances where birds build nests next to chimneys, which in turn ignited the nests when homeowners light a fire, and the chimney gets hot. Think of birds nest as bundles of kindling.
  5. Secure your home’s vents and eaves with wire mesh and screen. Make sure these coverings are maintained and clear. Eaves and vents, including subfloor and interior wall vents, are the first places fire can get into your home through airborne embers and sparks. Make sure you have a way to secure things like pet doors and other openings. Fire will find any opening it can to get inside your home.
  6. Build an underground fire shelter. Fire moves faster than you can drive. You may be caught unaware if a nearby fire “blows up” and sweeps onto your property. An underground fire shelter can provide precious minutes for your to hose down or defend your home, and then later save your life.
  7. Keep your gutters clean and clear year-round. Gutters full of dry leaves and pine needles are troughs of kindling for a fire. Keep them clean, especially during fire season. However, if you have neighbors within 50 feet, keep them clear year-round. A next-door house fire can quickly send burning embers into your gutters, igniting a second fire.
  8. Cedar shingled roofs look great, but they’re firetraps. If you must have that cedar look, go for tile or steel that looks like cedar, not the real thing. The safest roofs to have are steel or tin.
  9. Siding, particularly vinyl or wood siding, is worthless in a fire. If you must use vinyl siding, install a fiber cement backing board to slow the flames. Stucco is good, and as one man learned, cement is an even better housing or roofing material because it doesn’t burn.
  10. Park RVs, cars, trailers and other vehicles away from the house. Many homeowners will connect their RVs, boats or trailers to dehumidifies, heaters or other devices to keep the vehicles dry or warm. They tend to be unmonitored vehicles, which can quickly catch fire and burn, jumping to the house.
  11. Remove and store propane tanks away from the house, and never under a grill or in direct sunlight. Propane is safest at cold temperatures, most dangerous at high temperatures. If you use propane, either for heating your home or with a grill, keep it cool (under awning or in shade) and away from the house. Always store propane tanks upright (not on their sides), and never store them where temperatures could exceed 125F, such as in a wildfire.
  12. Limit the size and number of windows that face large areas of vegetation, or cover them with exterior, non-combustible shutters. The heat from a wildfire can cause windows to break even before the home ignites.
  13. If you love windows, then install tempered glass or multilayered glazed panels in exterior windows, glass doors, and skylights. Tempered glass can protect your interior from heat long after even double-paned glass has exploded from the heat.
  14. Get rid of drapes, or invest in fire retardant drapery material. Extreme heat from a fire can literally go straight through a glass window and set your drapes on fire. Keep highly combustible furniture, drapes etc. away from windows.
  15. Create a standing water source for rescue workers. This can be a swimming pool, pond, or water tower.
  16. Invest in smoke detectors, and use them. Change the batteries once a year whether they need it or not, and test the alarm monthly to make sure they’re working.
  17. Buy fire extinguishers for every room in the house and for outdoors on porches and decks. This might seem like overkill, but fires start everywhere for the oddest of reasons.
  18. Keep your pets locked up when burning candles inside or out. It’s too easy for a pet to knock over or bump into a table and jostle a burning candle, or catch their fur on fire. Animals, young children, and open fire do not mix.
  19. If you have a barrel tile roof, seal the open edges with grout to prevent windblown embers from entering your home.
  20. Considering building a home, property fence, or storage shed out of cement. Cement doesn’t burn and can stop a fire from spreading.
  21. If you have big trees around your home, prune all limbs up to six-feet to prevent ground fires from reaching them. Keep your grass cut and watered.

Doing these things won’t guarantee you’ll stop a wildfire from destroying your home, but they will increase the chances your home won’t go up in smoke.

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About The Author
Becky Blanton
Becky Blanton is a full-time ghostwriter and writing coach for Fortune 500 companies, CEOs, and business speakers. In 2009 she spoke at TED Global at Oxford University, her first ever public speaking gig. When she's not writing, she's kayaking in the Chesapeake Bay. Her dream home is to live aboard a sailing or houseboat.