You do everything you can to prevent fires in the home. You’re careful in the kitchen and with your electrical appliances; you check your smoke alarms every month; and your family knows how to respond in case of a fire. You’re even considering getting fire sprinklers installed. But fire threats don’t just happen inside the home. Your home may someday be threatened by a fire outside—especially if it’s in an area prone to forest fires.
Forest fires can rage out of control, and they can take miles of forest and development land with them. If your home is in the path of a forest fire, there’s not a lot you can do—unless you’ve made careful preparations beforehand. Here are a few ways to prevent forest fires from destroying your home and property.
Use fire-resistant building materials. The heat doesn’t start with the fire. Sometimes sparks and heat from a forest fire can travel ahead of the fire itself, raising the temperature of buildings and trees for miles around so that it’s more likely than usual to burn when the actual fire appears. Choose a home or build a home with brick or stone—much more flame-resistant than wood or vinyl—and asphalt, metal, or tile roofing. If you use wood, vinyl or another combustible material, treat it with UL-approved fire-resistant chemicals.
Keep your yard clear of debris. Pine needles, leaves, grass clippings, and dry grass can lead a fire right to your door—and flammable debris from your gutters, under decks and steps can encourage the flames. Keep your yard, gutters and home area clear of yard debris that might be flammable. Keep firewood at least fifty feet away from your house.
Maintain a water source. In the event of a forest fire, firefighters will need all the help they can get. Even if there are hydrants nearby, your house will have a better chance of surviving a fire if you keep a cistern or another water source nearby. Some homeowners collect rainwater in cisterns, while others share large storage tanks with neighbors. It’s best to have approximately 9,500 litres at minimum.
Landscape for protection. One of the most effective ways to prevent forest fires from damaging your house is to build a defensible space around it where fire won’t find fuel. Trees, shrubs, and other large greenery can also be very flammable—as are dead branches, needles and other organic debris. Keep a space approximately 15 metres around your house clear of debris and shrubs; use brick and stone walkways, crushed gravel between flower beds, pools, stone or brick patios, driveways and other non-flammable yard features as fire breaks.
Trim your trees. Thin the trees around your house and keep the lower branches trimmed to a height of at least 4.5 metres above the ground. There should be at least 4.5 metres of open space between each tree’s branches, so fire can’t leap easily from tree to tree.
Choose vegetation that prevents fire. The danger with a forest fire is that the fire will climb to tree canopies or be directed upward by features in your yard, eventually getting to your roof. Trim your shrubbery to be flat and wide; avoid tall conical shrubs that could encourage fires to travel upward. Trees such as pine, palmetto, juniper, and wax myrtle are particularly combustible, but older trees and some species such as oak are less likely to burn. Oak leaves can prevent fires from spreading. Some trees within your defensible zone can keep the area around your house cooler and less likely to combust, but be sure to choose oak or other broadleaf species that are more resistant to fire.
There are many ways to prevent forest fires from damaging your home. Taking precautions with your landscaping and installing a cistern can go a long way toward making your home safe from forest fires. Follow these tips, and hopefully if a forest fire comes through your area, the damage to your home will be significantly reduced.