Fire season came early this year, and the key to protecting your home is to understand the unique way in which a wildfire attacks. The safety of your home is rated in terms of hours, meaning roughly how long the structure will remain standing to allow people to get out and firefighters to get in.
Building codes were originally designed to protect your house from interior fires caused by such things as unattended cigarettes or circuits that shorted out slowly. A wildfire, on the other hand, will attack your home from the exterior. Driven by strong winds, it can reach peak temperatures in seconds. It may pass over your home and be gone within minutes, but the danger then becomes secondary spot fires started on and within your home by wind-driven flames and embers.
Proper preparations by you, the homeowner, can make a difference in whether your house is saved or you return home to a pile of ashes. The first step is often the most effective, so start by clearing combustible debris from around the house. This includes such obvious things as dry grass, brush, stacks of firewood, and debris, however, it also pertains to some not-so-obvious actions such as replacing a dried out wooden fence or old wooden deck. If you don’t want to replace them, at least get the wood treated. In addition, clear away any obstructions leading up to your home. Easier access will result in quicker response time from a fire crew.
Making sure eaves and vent openings are properly screened and maintained may seem like a small detail, but they’re often the first place embers fly in and start a house ablaze during a wildfire. Even keeping gutters clean will help protect your home.
Roofs are often the most vulnerable part of a house during a fire, so cedar shakes should be treated on a regular basis. In addition, cracks and openings in Spanish tile roofs make it easy for wind to drive embers inside your attic. You can fire-stop individual tiles in an existing roof, but choose tiles or other fire-rated roofing materials designed to interlock tightly, installed over a fire-resistant cap sheet, when installing a new roof. If you’re constructing a home with a flat composition built-up roof, discuss fire-resistant options with a safety expert.
Windows are also exceptionally vulnerable, as intense heat can penetrate them and catch drapes and furniture on fire. The easiest solution is to replace windows with heat-resistant products. Fire can also cause windows to break, so smaller, tempered units will provide more stability than larger ones.
Location, location, location – it’s not just a tagline for resellers. Placing a house in a thick stand of trees is outright asking for trouble, as is constructing a home on a hilltop or overhanging a prominent rock outcropping, where it can become a clear target for a fast-moving fire.
All too often, people design their dream home with no regard for the hazards of potential fires, but a few simple steps can make all the difference in protecting your home from Mother Nature’s fury.
Lisa Alexander is a freelance writer