How to Protect Your Property This Wildfire Season
The last few years have seen some of the worst wildfires in U.S. history. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), nearly 9 million acres burned in 2018 — 6 million more than the yearly average in the 1990s. Additionally, the institute estimated $8.5 to $10.5 million in insurance losses from the 2018 California Camp Fire alone1. With these facts in mind, it’s more important than ever to prepare your home and family for wildfire season.
Homes in fire-prone area needs to keep shrubbery down to a minimum. Xeriscaping – the art of reducing the need for irrigation by landscaping with different types of rocks and gravel – is an ecofriendly and fire-safe option.
When landscaping your yard, straight paths of dry vegetation can act like a lit fuse, allowing fire to hurdle toward your property. Instead, break up the plants in a mosaic pattern. Sloping yards can also speed up the rate in which fire can travel to your home. According the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, homes with yard grades under 20 degrees should keep vegetation at least 30 feet away from the home. Grades over 20 degrees are considered potential fire hazards. In that case, the distance in feet from the vegetation to the house needs to equal the degree of the slope multiplied by three2.
In general, keep plants at least 100 feet away from the home. Even if they aren’t close to the house, be sure to prune dead branches and rake up debris on the ground to minimize risk. Also, some plants are best left out of the yard altogether – trees like pines and eucalyptus generate more burning embers than other species and pose a higher risk to you and your neighbors.
On top of making sure your home has properly managed vegetation, it needs to be irrigated. It’s best to water the yard early in the morning between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. Depending on the type of system you have, some sprinklers will turn off when the ground reaches a certain saturation level. Regardless, most sprinklers are equipped with timers. A dripline system — delivering water directly to the roots — can use up to 50 percent less water and is more efficient than traditional sprinkler systems.
In the event of a wildfire in your area, place the sprinklers on the roof and near above-ground fuel tanks and leave them on for as long as possible. Wetting these areas will help to dowse embers that come in contact with them.
Protect the Exterior
It’s important that homes in areas prone to wildfires are built with fire-resistant exterior products. Certain types of siding, for example, can quickly spread a fire over an entire house. As a result, many states require fireproof siding. In 2008, California passed building code 7A, which dictates siding must be noncombustible and ignition-resistant.
According to the University of California Cooperative Extension, the roof is the area of the home most vulnerable to wind-blown embers and other firestorm debris3. Therefore, choose fire-resistant roofing material with the highest rating (Class A). Fire resistance classes are determined on a roof material’s ability to:
- Resist the spread of fire into the attic (or cathedral ceiling) area
- Resist the spread of flame on the roof covering
- Avoid generating burning embers
In America, there are three different testing standards for fire resistance: American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Standard E-108; Underwriters Laboratory (UL) Standard 790; and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 276. There is no need, however, to worry about which system your roof was tested under, because the methods are extremely similar.
Have a Plan
In the event of a wildfire or fire storm, have a plan ready to execute. Make a checklist of important items you may need. These include cash, important documents, toiletries, a first-aid kit, and food. If you need to leave your home, establish a place to stay in advance like a friend’s house or local shelter.
If it seems likely a fire will threaten your property, shut off the gas and turn on interior and exterior lights, so your home is visible through smoke. In addition to wetting your roof with sprinklers, as mentioned above, flood your gutters and fill large containers like a pool or hot tub. These water reserves will help lower the temperature of hot spots. Most importantly, evacuate if you are told to do so by emergency services.
For more information on how to protect areas like windows and skylights from fires, visit the University of California Cooperative Extension website.