Living with wildfire means taking steps to address your home’s most vulnerable components like building materials and other techniques to increase resistance to wildfires. If you live in the wildland-urban interface, consider retrofitting or ‘hardening’ your home. Keep in mind the three ways your home can be exposed to wildfire: direct flames, radiant heat, and flying embers. Home hardening means your home is prepared to withstand high heat and ember storms, but does not mean it is fireproof. Home hardening and defensible space can slow down a wildfire and give firefighters more time to save your home.
Making your home fire safe
Retrofit your home with materials that are fire resistant. Be sure to perform regular maintenance to ensure you are ember aware! Key areas to retrofit your home to better withstand wildfire are outlined below.
Consider upgrading your roof to a Class A roof especially if you have a wood shake or shingle roof. A Class A roof offers the greatest fire protection and includes asphalt and fiberglass composition, clay and cementitious tiles, and some metal roofing materials. Remove vegetative debris from the roof and ensure there are no gaps in the roof (especially between roofing materials and the roof deck) to prevent ignition from embers.
Vents for attic, crawl spaces, and the dryer can provide an entry point for embers. Vents should be covered with a ⅛ inch noncombustible corrosion resistant metal mesh screening that will prevent embers from entering. Consider replacing vents with a flame and ember resistant option.
Radiant heat and windborne embers can accumulate in the overhang of a house causing the roof or siding to ignite. An open overhang with exposed rafters and decking are prime areas for ignition. Additionally, attic events, often present in eaves, can cause radiant heat and embers to enter the attic where ignition materials are likely present. Consider adding flat, horizontal soffits to overhangs (with a minimum 1 hour fire resistance rating) and installing fire resistant vents.
The priorities listed below are considered medium priorities, unless your home resides in a densely populated area in a high fire zone. In such case, these priorities are considered high priorities.
The glass in windows can break during a wildfire due to direct flame contact with the house or excessively hot radiant heat exposure. Broken windows allow embers and flames to enter the home. During a wildfire, always make sure your windows are closed. When replacing windows, consider installing dual pane, tempered glass windows that have a high heat rating.
Most commercially available deck boards are combustible. If a deck ignites during a fire and is attached to a home, it leaves the home vulnerable to damage from direct flame contact. To minimize the risk a deck poses to the house, create an ember resistant zone under and around the footprint of a deck. Never store combustible materials (like firewood) under a deck. For extra protection, consider adding a metal flashing where the deck attaches to the house. If a deck cannot be replaced entirely, consider replacing the first couple of deck boards that span the width of the deck/home connection with more fire resistant materials like solid surface decks/lightweight concrete.
Gutters can make a home vulnerable to fire due to vegetative debris buildup. Be sure to remove debris from gutters on a regular basis, especially before fire season. Consider installing metal gutters (over more combustible vinyl or plastic gutters) and noncombustible rain gutter covers that prevent debris from piling up.
Since it is normal to store ignitable materials in garages (i.e., gasoline, oil, paint), it is imperative to take steps to reduce the ignitability of the garage. Ensure that garage doors are properly sealed to prevent embers from entering the garage. Garage windows, vents, and siding should be treated the same as the home, especially if the garage is attached. Add a battery backup to the garage door motor so the garage door can be easily opened during an evacuation.
Combustible siding (wood, wood composite, and plastic/vinyl products) can be ignited from radiant heat exposure or direct flame contact. Siding is particularly vulnerable if it extends all the way to the ground and if embers come in contact with combustible materials next to home (wood piles, outdoor furniture, etc.). Consider replacing siding with noncombustible siding such as stucco, steel and fiber cement.
At the connection where the chimney meets the roof, vegetative debris can collect and provide an ignition site for windblown embers. Be sure to check this area for debris when cleaning your roof and consider installing metal flashing. Similarly to vents, chimneys should be covered with non-combustible metal screening materials with openings no smaller than ⅜ inch but not larger than ½ inch to minimize embers leaving the chimney. Close the fireplace flute during fire season.
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How Homes Ignite
Improve your Defensible Space
Zone 0: The Ember Resistant Zone
Extends 0 to 5 feet from buildings, structures, and decks.
This zone is the most important of all defensible space zones. Its purpose is to keep embers and direct flame from igniting materials that can spread wildfire to the home.
In this zone:
- Replace combustible landscape materials (like mulch) with hardscape like gravel, pavers, or concrete.
- Remove all dead and dying weeds, grasses, or plants.
- Limit plants in this area to low growing, nonwoody, well maintained plants. Avoid planting herbs with high oil content. Consider planting in flower boxes for plants in this zone so that flower boxes can be moved to a fire safe distance from the home during a wildfire.
- Replace fencing and gates that attach to the home with noncombustible options like metal.
Zone 1: Lean, Clean, and Green Zone
Extends 30 feet from buildings, structures and decks, or to the property line.
- Relocate wood piles to Zone 2 if possible.
- Remove all dead or dying plants especially dead trees and invasive weeds.
- Remove vegetative debris like dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof, and rain gutters.
- Remove any tree branches that extend over your roof and keep branches at least 10 feet away from your chimney.
- Trim trees to maintain 10 feet from other tree branches.
- Eliminate/reduce combustible materials by creating separation between trees, shrubs, and swing sets, patio furniture, etc.
Zone 2: Reduce Fuel Zone
Extends 30 to 100 feet out from buildings, structures, and decks or to the property line.
- Cut or mow annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches.
- Reduce fuels by thinning and pruning vegetation both horizontally and vertically. Ensure that Zone 2 only includes well spaced clumps of trees and shrubs with no ladder fuels. Creating islands of vegetation with hardscape between areas can stop or slow the spread of fire and create a more ember resistant landscape.
- Ensure that patio furniture is made of fire resistant materials (like metal) or is placed at least 30 feet from the building/deck.
- Place wood piles as far out in this zone as possible on bare mineral soil with a minimum clearance of 10 feet in all directions.
Your home can be beautiful and fire safe!
Creating a fire smart landscape around your home doesn’t have to mean clearing vegetation down to bare soil. In fact, completely clearing your property for wildfire protection can create a host of issues like erosion, not to mention this strategy can be unsightly. Creating a fire smart landscape involves the use of California native plants that are naturally drought/fire resistant while providing habitat for birds, bees, and other wildlife.