Whether it’s an ice storm, a wildfire, or another natural disaster, volunteers from Benton County Community Emergency Response Team (BCCERT) have been trained to help their neighbors respond. Pam Wilson is a retired teacher and a trained BCCERT member who has created this blog post series to help Benton County residents prepare for emergencies. This is the eighth installment.
Defensible space is defined as the area around a building where vegetation, debris and other combustible fuels have been treated, cleared or reduced to slow a fire’s spread. Defensible space is one of the most cost-effective ways to protect buildings from wildfire and we can often do our own work. Creating defensible space is what many residents of the Soap Creek Valley did in the last two summers when we worked with the Oregon Department of Forestry to clean our properties and around the schoolhouse. We first did this in 2018 and had to repeat this year – trees grow and without animals to eat the grass, the space between the lowest limbs and tallest grass was a “ladder fuel” situation.
The area around our homes is usually classified in three categories. This week, I’m addressing the Home Ignition Zone or the Immediate Zone. This area extends from 0 to 5 feet from the furthest attached exterior point of the home. This is the area most vulnerable to embers. Experts say we should make our homes as fire-resistant as possible by:
- Reduce Debris
- Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles that catch embers.
- Clean debris from exterior attic vents;
- Keep ground, flower beds as clean as you can.
- Remove debris that accumulates at roof-to-wall intersections. Fireplace embers could ignite a wildfire so install a spark arrestor.
- Remove debris next to or on skylights. Glass is a better option than plastic or fiberglass.
- Dead vegetation, dried leaves, needles and ground debris accumulation should be frequently removed from this area.
- Install Screens
- Reduce embers that pass through eave vents by installing 1/8” metal mesh screening.
- install 1/8” metal mesh screening in attic vents.
- Repair/replace damaged or loose window screens and broken windows.
- Screen or box in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.
- In an approaching wildfire, close the damper, fireplace screens and glass doors.
- All foundation vents should have 1/8” corrosion-resistant metal screens.
- Consider installing a louver-type dryer vent that stays closed unless the dryer is running.
- Consider purchasing closure devices for foundation and gable end vents.
- Choose Fire-proof Materials
- Metal roof gutters don’t ignite; their contents do. Vinyl roof gutters ignite with debris and can fall landing next to the house. Another reason to clean this immediate zone of flammable materials!
- Weather-seal garage door perimeters to help keep embers out. Make sure doors are tight fitting so embers can’t slide under or in from the sides. If possible, choose a metal or wood-core door with a metal exterior.
- For sliding glass doors, choose double-pane tempered glass. Consider fire-proof shutters to protect large windows and glass doors from radiant heat. These actions may also make it easier for firefighters to defend your home in case of fire.
- Multi-paned tempered glass helps reduce risk of fracture or collapse in a fire.
- Dormer-face vents should be replaced with a low-profile vent. Ridge vents should be rated for high wind/rain exposure. For turbine vents, access attic and inspect where the vent attaches to the roof. Attach 1/8 inch screening to the roof sheathing.
- If replacing a roof is on your list, types of Class-A fire-rated roofing products offer the best protection; examples are composite shingles, metal, cement tile and clay. Replace/repair missing or loose shingles or roof tiles to prevent ember penetration. If gaps exist between roof covering and roof deck, at the eave or ridge, fill the space with “bird stop” material.
- What about siding? Use ignition resistant building materials on exterior walls like stucco, masonry products, plaster and cement. Seal gaps and crevices. Examine siding for places where embers can accumulate or lodge. Apply caulking at trim-to-siding locations where it’s missing or has failed.
- Anything next to the house should be plant materials that are fire-resistant.
- Replace wood mulch products with non-combustible mulch products like stone and gravel.
- In the wildfire series OSU Extension did this spring, a participant from Eastern Oregon had just replaced a deck only to find out that what she replaced it with was highly combustible. So if you are planning on some new construction, you might want to add “fire” considerations into your planning.
- Remove Flammable Items
- Move flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles, anything that can burn.
- Do not store things under decks or porches.
- Trim tree branches that overhang roof and chimney.
- Remove flammable items stored in carports, i.e fuel, newspapers, recycling.
- Use non-flammable fencing material when directly attached to the siding. Assure a minimum or 5’ noncombustible material where it attaches to the siding. No vines or other vegetation on your fencing materials. Wooden fences can carry flames directly to your house.
- Cover burn piles with tarps if wood didn’t get chipped before the burn ban came into effect. Make sure it is well away from the house.
- Remove trees and shrubs from this zone. Hardscape it with stone, gravel, concrete. If you are like us, a major part of my landscape is up against, leaning on and established in this 5 feet. This is a major change for us!
- Keep burnable materials such as play structures and wooden outdoor furniture out of this zone or be able to move it very fast as you are evacuating.
- Keep the lawn mowed. It is recommended we keep it green but with water the way it is, mowed is better than nothing.
- No one is planting right now, but when you are planning, OSU Extension (extension.oregonstate.edu) has these two publications:
- Fire-Resistant Plants for Home Landscapes: Selecting Plants that May Reduce your Risk from Wildfire. PNW-590
- Fire-Resistant Landscape Plants for the Willamette Valley by Brooke Edmunds, Barb Fick & Paula Rogers Lupcho. EM 2015
And finally, Be Visible. Make sure your house number is visible on the house and at driveway entrance so firefighters know where they are.
Next week, we’ll look at the Intermediate Zone.
- Defensible Space: Home Builder’s Guide to Construction in Wildfire Zones (FEMA Fact Sheet #4)
- How to Prepare Your Home for Wildfires: Wildfire Risk Reduction Steps that Can Make Your Home Safer in a Wildfire (Firewise.org)
- Oregon Wildfire Preparedness. 2017. QuickSeries Publishing. 1-800-361-4653