Natural Disasters: Be Aware, Be Prepared
As our climate warms, the risk of wildfires has risen in the U.S. particularly in the Southwest and Western states. Everyone living near wilderness or forested areas should be ready for the potential of fire and plan to protect their lives and their homes.
Terms You Should Know
ABC type Fire Extinguishers: These are fire extinguishers that can handle the three most common types of compbustible materials found in home. Class A covers common flammable items such as paper, wood, cardboard, and many plastics; Class B is for gasoline, kerosene, grease, and oil fires; and Class C covers electrical fires including appliances, wiring, circuit breakers and outlets.
1. Gather information.
Contact your local fire department, forestry office, emergency management office or building department for information about local fire laws, building codes and protection measures. Obtain local building codes and weed abatement ordinances for structures built near wooded areas.
2. Learn and teach safe fire practices.
- Build fires away from nearby trees or bushes. Place all ashes in a metal bucket, soak in water for two days, then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil.
- Store gasoline, oily rags, and other flammable materials in approved safety cans. Place the cans in a safe location away from the base of buildings.
- Always have a way to extinguish the fire quickly and completely. Teach each family member how to use the fire extinguisher (ABC type) and show them where it's kept.
- Install smoke detectors on every level of your home and near sleeping areas.
- Never leave a fire--even a cigarette--burning unattended.
- Avoid open burning completely, and especially during dry season.
3. Always be ready for an emergency evacuation.
Evacuation may be the only way to protect your family in a wildfire. Know where to go and what to bring with you. You should plan several escape routes in case roads are blocked by a wildfire.
Protecting Your Home
1. Landscape with wildfire safety in mind:
- Select materials and plants that can help contain fire rather than fuel it.
- Use fire-resistant or non-combustible materials on the roof and exterior structure of the dwelling.
- Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees (for example, hardwood trees are less flammable than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus or fir trees) and mow grass regularly.c
- Keep roofs and gutters clean, recycle newspapers, and dispose of rubbish as directed by your sanitation department.
- Inspect chimneys at least twice a year and clean them at least once a year. Keep the dampers in good working order. Equip chimneys and stovepipes with a spark arrester that meets the requirements of National Fire Protection Association Code 211 (contact your local fire department for exact specifications.)
- Use 1/2-inch mesh screen beneath porches, decks, floor areas, and the home itself. Also, screen any openings to floors, roof, and attic.
- Install a smoke detector on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms; test monthly and change the batteries at least once each year.
- Keep a ladder that will reach the roof.
- Keep handy items that can be used as fire tools such as a rake, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, bucket, and shovel.
- Identify and maintain an adequate outside water source such as a small pond, cistern, well, swimming pool, or hydrant.
- Have a garden hose that is long enough to reach any area of the home and other structures on the property.
- Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of the home and near other structures on the property. Install additional outlets at least 50 feet from the home.
2. Create a Safety Zone Around Your Home
Within this 30 to 100 foot area, you can take steps to reduce potential exposure to flames and radiant heat. Homes built in pine forests should have a minimum safety zone of 100 feet. If your home sits on a steep slope, standard protective measures may not suffice. Contact your local fire department or forestry of fire for additional information.
- Rake leaves, dead limbs, and twigs. Clear all flammable vegetation.
- Remove leaves and rubbish from under structures, setting out leaves for yard waste pickup and disposing of other materials as recommended by your sanitation department.
- Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home.
- Thin a 15-foot space between trees, and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground.
- Remove dead branches that extend over the roof.
- Prune tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet.
- Ask the power company to clear branches from power lines.
- Clear a 10-foot area around propane tanks and the barbecue. Place a screen over the grill—use non-flammable material with mesh no coarser than one-quarter inch.