Topic

Wildfires

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The Texas Forest Service has had a heck of a time in Bastrop County. Back in September of 2011 36,000 acres went up in smoke and 1645 hoes burnt in total. Over 25,000 acres and 500 homes burned in just over 24 hours after the start of the fire.

The best thing you can do if you see a wildfire brewing is to evacuate on the spot. There are, however, some domestic tactics which you can undertake which will avoid your home becoming the source of wildfires. These tactics are especially useful if you live in an area close to a forest or in a part of the country which is prone to droughts.

WildFire prevention in drought prone areas

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  • Trim back brush and remove any dead or dying trees, plants, grass, yard clippings, and any flammable items in a 100-ft-radius.
  • Prune existing native vegetation to 6 inches above the ground.
  • Cut low-hanging tree branches up to 6 ft off the grounding pithing 10 ft of touching a building, chimney or power line. Low branches may carry a ground fire upwards into the trees.
  • Reduce plants alongside the driveway by at least 10 feet on each side. Trim overhead branches to allow at least 13 1/2 feet of vertical clearance within the driveway for emergency and escape vehicle clearance.
  • Seniors in the community may have difficulty maintaining their property. Your assistance will not only protect their property, it will protect your own.
  • Plans and trees should be irrigated with deep watering at least once a month for drought-tolerant species and once a week for high water-requiring species.
  • Vary the height of plants and give them adequate spacing.
  • Avoid planting trees under or near electrical lines because they could contact the lines and ignite.
  • Consider using rock mulch in areas where you want to prevent vegetation growth such as under decks or close the combustable materials. Wood chip mulch could ignite and wreak havoc.
  • Regularly clear leaves and debris from your roof, gutter, decks and yard. An ember landing on these dried materials can easily fuel a fire. After a storm is usually a good time to begin cleaning.
  • Wood piles or other flammable materials should be relocated at least 50 feet fro your home of business, more than 10 feet from an aboveground propane tank, and away from any flammable vegetation or trees.
  • Firewood stacks should not be located uphill from a structure – a burning log could roll downhill and ignite the building.
  • Use low-growing plants and remove furnishing or combustable materials under or near windows and glass doors. Even fire-resistant glass can break who exposed to the extreme heat of materials burning nearby.

Even though a wildfire will likely call for you to evacuate your home, there is no reason not to try and preserve your property value. Here are some tips which may ensure that your home is left standing, even if a wildfire does engulf the neighborhood.

Roofs

  • Upgrade your roof to a Class A fire-resistance rating. For details on roofing materials and other ignition-resistant construction requirements, check with your local fire department. If upgrading is not possible, then maintain your roof covering by repairing gaps in the tiles so embers cannot reach the sheathing underneath.
  • Box in your roof eaves with a fire resistant material to prevent any embers from blowing underneath.
  • Install bird stops at the ends of barrelstyle roof coverings. The stops prevent debris build-up and deter birds from nesting between the roof covering and sheathing.
  • Install gutter covers to reduce debris build-up. The covers and gutters will still need maintenance, but not as often.

Walls & Chimneys

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  • Replace combustible home siding with fire-resitant materials, like stucco, brick, fiber-cement, or wood products previously factory-treated with fire retardant. If not possible, maintain and repair exterior siding, making sure there are no gaps for embers to enter the wall.
  • Inspect your home for any signs of moisture rot and replace any affected areas – decaying wood is highly flammable.
  • Retrofit your roof, wall, foundation, and vents with 1/4 inch non-combustible metal mesh to resist the intrusion of flames and embers. The mesh will still allow airflow for moisture control.
  • Install a spark arrestor on your chimney.

Decks & Fences

  • For attached decks, consider using fire-resistant materials such as wood factory-treated with fire retardant, concrete, bricks, tiles, or stones, instead of untreated wood or wood/plastic composite boards.
  • Sweep debris accumulation from between the gaps of a wood deck. This reduces the build up of flammable material and ventilates the wood to prevent decay.
  • Enclose or screen the underside of your deck to prevent accumulation of flammable debris.
  • When selecting lumber for a deck or fence, choose thicker boards at least 1.5 inches thick – they do not ignite as easily as thinner boards.
  • Avoid using combustible fencing materials within 10 feet of your home.

Miscellaneous Exterior

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  • Replace windows with tempered glass dual pane windows. The outer pane acts as a thermal shield for the inner pane and tempered glass is stronger than regular glass. If window replacement is not possible, replace only the single-pane glass with tempered glass.
  • If possible, expand your driveway to 16 feet wide. This will allow a large fire vehicle and a passenger vehicle to pass side by side. Some local fire agencies may require additional width for certain properties or communities.
  • Auxiliary structures including patio covers, awnings and trellises should be constructed of non-combustible materials.
  • Try to relocate wooden or combustible materials structures at least 50 feet from your home. If building a shed or other structure, consider using fire-resistant materials for the roof and siding.
  • Purchase fire-resistant patio furniture

Indoors

  • Hire a licensed contractor to install a fire sprinkler system indoors. A residential fire sprinkler system will detect and disperse water automatically and extinguish the fire or reduce its intensity until help can arrive.
  • If you have a fireplace, get a screen (mesh, metal or glass) to prevent burning embers from escaping and starting a fire inside your home.
  • Use rust-resistant metal screens to help absorb heat and keep embers from flying in an open or shattered window

Course Discussion