Wildfires are not only devastating for the natural environment but also for the people nearby. According to a recent report by the nonprofit research organization Climate Central, more than 4.5 million homes in the U.S. are at high or extreme risk of wildfire. That’s about one in every 12 homes in the country.
Then how do you know if your house is the one at risk? And what can you do to reduce the risk and protect your property? In this article, I will answer these questions and provide some tips and resources to prepare for the wildfire season.
- How To Assess Your Wildfire Risk
- How To Reduce Your Wildfire Risk
- 1. Create a defensible space around your house
- 2. Use fire-resistant materials for your house
- 3. Prepare an emergency plan and kit
- How To Prepare For And Respond To A Wildfire Emergency
How To Assess Your Wildfire Risk
There are many factors that affect your wildfire risk, such as:
- Geographic location: If you live in a rural area with lots of vegetation, especially evergreen forests or grasslands, you have a higher chance of facing a wildfire than if you live in a city with less flammable materials.
- Building materials: A house built from wood or other flammable materials can easily catch fire from flying embers or radiant heat. On the other hand, if your house is made of fire-resistant materials, it can withstand higher temperatures and resist burning.
- Architectural design: Features that can trap sparks or let flames in, such as open eaves, vents, windows, or doors, can increase your risk. Likewise, items that can fuel the fire or spread it to your home, such as firewood, propane tanks, furniture, or trash, can make things worse.
- Surrounding vegetation: Plants that are dry, dead, or overgrown near your home can act as fuel for the fire and create a path for it to reach your home. Conversely, if you have green, moist, or low-growing plants that are well-spaced and pruned around your house, they can act as a buffer and slow down the fire.
To assess your wildfire risk, you can use online tools.
- To get a wildfire risk rating for your property based on location, vegetation, and building characteristics, you can use the Wildfire Risk Explorer.
- The Firewise USA® Recognition Program is a helpful resource that can help you identify and reduce your wildfire risk through education, planning, and action.
- If you want to connect with community leaders and experts who are working to increase their resilience to wildfire, you can join the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network.
You can also consult with local fire officials or experts who can conduct a home assessment and give you recommendations on how to improve your fire safety.
How To Reduce Your Wildfire Risk
Once you have assessed your wildfire risk, you can take steps to reduce it and protect your property. Here are some general tips:
1. Create a defensible space around your house
To create a defensible space around your house, you should remove or reduce any flammable materials that can ignite or spread the fire within an area of at least 30 feet (or more depending on local regulations).
This means clearing away dead leaves, branches, pine needles, and other debris from your roof, gutters, eaves, and vents; pruning trees and shrubs so that they are at least 10 feet away from each other and from your house; mowing grasses and weeds regularly; and moving firewood, propane tanks and other combustible items away from your house.
2. Use fire-resistant materials for your house
Another tip is to use fire-resistant materials for your house, such as metal roofs, metal mesh vents, fiber cement, stucco or brick siding, double-pane or tempered glass windows, metal shutters or fire curtains, and gap and crack sealants around doors and windows. These materials can help prevent embers or heat from igniting or entering your house.
3. Prepare an emergency plan and kit
The last tip is to prepare an emergency plan and kit for your family. This involves having a communication plan; identifying multiple evacuation routes and safe destinations; preparing a go-bag with essential items such as water, food, medications, documents, and cash; signing up for emergency alerts from local authorities; and practicing your plan regularly.
How To Prepare For And Respond To A Wildfire Emergency
Even with the best prevention and mitigation measures in place, wildfires can still occur and threaten your home and your safety. Therefore, it is essential to be prepared for and respond to a wildfire emergency in an effective and timely manner. Here are some tips on how to do so:
Before a wildfire
Preparing for a wildfire emergency requires several steps.
First, you should create an emergency plan that includes evacuation routes, meeting points, communication methods, and emergency contacts.
Second, you should assemble an emergency kit that contains essential items to protect yourself from wildfires, such as water, food, medications, documents, cash, flashlight, radio, batteries, phone charger, mask (N95 or KN95), goggles (non-vented), gloves (leather), clothes (long-sleeved shirt/pants), shoes (sturdy/leather), first aid kit, etc.
Third, you should review your insurance policy and update it if necessary.
Lastly, you should take photos or videos of your property and belongings for documentation purposes.
During a wildfire
During a wildfire emergency, it is crucial to stay informed and follow the instructions of local authorities. You can listen to local radio stations or check official websites or social media accounts for the latest fire situation and evacuation orders. If you are told to evacuate, do so as quickly and safely as possible.
However, if you are trapped in your home or your car, do not panic. You can still take some measures to protect yourself from the fire and the smoke, such as:
- Staying inside and away from windows to avoid direct exposure to flames or radiant heat
- Filling sinks or tubs with water to use for extinguishing embers or cooling yourself
- Wetting towels and placing them under doors to block smoke from entering
- Wearing protective clothing and a mask (N95 or KN95) to cover your skin and filter the air
- Covering yourself with a wet blanket or sheet to prevent burns
- Parking in an open area away from vegetation if you are in your car
- Closing all windows, doors, and vents in your car to prevent embers from entering
- Covering yourself with a wool blanket or jacket in your car to insulate yourself from the heat
- Staying calm and calling 911 for help
After a wildfire
After a wildfire, you should wait for the authorities to declare the area safe before returning to your home.
Once you are allowed to go back, be careful of hazards such as hot spots, fallen power lines, damaged gas lines, or contaminated water. As you check your home for signs of damage or embers, extinguish them with water immediately.
Then, contact your insurance company and report your losses as soon as possible. In addition, seek medical attention if you have any injuries or symptoms from smoke inhalation. Finally, seek emotional support if you have any trauma or stress from the wildfire experience.
Wildfire risk is a serious and growing threat to millions of homes and communities across the U.S., especially in the wake of record-breaking wildfires in recent years. However, by using the tools and resources available to assess your wildfire risk level and by taking proactive steps to reduce it, you can protect yourself, your property, and your environment from the devastating impacts of wildfires. Remember that wildfire risk reduction is not a one-time action, but a continuous process that requires constant vigilance and cooperation. Together, we can make our homes and communities more resilient and safer from wildfires.