Protect Your Home from Wildfires

The most effective home safety actions involve hardening your home and the immediate perimeter within 10 feet of it.

Research shows that most homes lost to wildfire are ignited by embers blown far ahead of the flames themselves into the crawl space, attic and igniting fine material next to the home, on its roof or in its gutters. Looking at thousands of homes that came into contact with fire, we can see that attempting to remove vegetation from vast forests is like trying to take a cup and make the ocean less wet.  The vegetation quickly grows back, and the landscapes are so vast we cannot maintain them over time and space. So, if we want to make homes and communities safer, we must follow the science and focus on the structures themselves plus the immediate surroundings.

Luckily, it is possible to retrofit your home to be ember and flame resistant. And some of the most effective modifications only cost a few dollars. Read on to find out what you can do.

The best time to prepare is long before fire season.

Think of Fire Safety in Zones

ZONE Home: The house

This is the most important zone where any ember that lands on flammable material on or next to the home or gets into the crawl space or attic could be deadly. This zone is so important, we break this down in its own section below. Scroll down to see the most effective fire risk reduction actions.

ZONE 0: 0-5 feet

The home and the area immediately surrounding the home should be 100% non-flammable material such as a concrete pathway or a rock garden. Instead of growing plants or garden beds where flames can easily ignite the house if they become dry, move them a few feet from the house. Also, a wood or plastic fence can act as a wick, bringing fire from neighboring homes or vegetation right to your doorstep! Make sure the 5 feet of fence connected to your house is a non-combustible material like metal.

ZONE 1: 5-30 feet

Defensible space is most important in this zone. Imagine giving firefighters a more open area to work. Reduce continuous tree cover so that the fire cannot easily jump from one treetop to the next. Trim any branches that overhang the house. In a wind event, they will drop burnable leaves and needles on your roof and in your gutters, creating a perfect bed for an ember to ignite.

ZONE 2: 30-100 feet

Research shows that this zone is less important but still wise to keep irrigated and shady when possible. Large trees can be left to grow here but trimming branches that touch neighboring trees is advised. Clearing vegetation farther than 100 feet from your house can have a negative effect on fire safety as it can allow sunlight to dry shrubs and grass, making them more flammable. So, don’t overdo it!

ZONE HOME – How To Prepare Your House

Here are the most important steps to take in order of importance based on the work of Dr. Alexandra Syphard:

1. Roof – Ensure your roof is non-flammable. Generally, this means that if you have a wood roof, you must replace it with asphalt, metal, or another non-flammable material.

2. Windows – Heat and debris blown by strong wind can crack single window panes and allow embers to burn the home from the inside out. Replace single-pane windows with double or tripple paned windows where the outside pane is tempered glass. This is not cheap but comes with the added benefit of increased energy efficiency for heating and cooling.

3. Air Vents – Most houses have vents into the attic and/or crawl space below the house. If these are not covered, embers can blow in on a strong wind and burn the house from the inside out. Cover these vents using wire mesh with 1/8th inch openings or smaller. This can cost just a few dollars per vent and could prevent your home from burning down.

4. Gutters – Keep your gutters clean! Don’t give embers a place to grow. Replace vinyl cutters with metal. Consider covering your gutters.

5. Siding – If flames come within 30-60 feet of your house, a non-flammable siding material such as hardy plank or even brick is advised. This is especially important if you have wood shingle siding. 

Even in the most destructive fire in California history, home preparation worked