Community Agriculture Alliance: Fire prevention and survival
July 12, 2012
This year's historic fire season has brought many people to think and act on wildfire prevention. Fire is unforgiving and can find the weak link in your home's fire defenses. Several factors determine a home's ability to survive a wildfire — most notable are roofing materials and quality of defensible space.
Defensible space is an area around a structure where fuels and vegetation are cleared or reduced to slow the spread of a wildfire. Defensible space also helps slow the progression of a fire away from a structure to nearby homes and the surrounding forest and provides firefighters an opportunity to defend the structure effectively.
Effective defensible space creates several treatment zones around a structure. The first zone is adjacent to the structure, extending out from the structure at least 10 feet, and it receives the most treatment. Ideally, all the flammable vegetation within 10 feet of the structure is removed in this zone.
As you proceed farther out into the next zone, fuel is reduced but not necessarily eliminated. Treatments in this zone include thinning trees and shrubs. Once a defensible space is established, annual maintenance is important.
While working on your defensible space, keep in mind that proper landscaping can reduce the risk of structural damage from wildfire greatly. Use native species when possible, as they are generally the best plant materials for defensible space. It's critical to keep grasses mowed short and watered, if possible, to prevent a creeping fire from reaching the structure. Other good alternatives for landscaping include the use of groundcover plants, wildflowers, mulch and decorative rock.
Homes built in the urban interface should be built with fire-resistant materials. The roofing material is the most important. Class C or better roofing materials should be used to prevent flying embers from easily igniting the roof. Other firewise construction techniques involve siding, enclosing eaves and overhangs and minimizing areas where heat or embers can get trapped.
Should a wildfire threaten your home, you may be contacted by law enforcement when an evacuation is warranted. Don't wait for an official call ordering you to evacuate if the situation seems threatening; leave if your common sense tells you it is time.
In Routt County, we recommend you sign up on the Code Red system to get timely alerts for emergency situations. It is easy to do, and alerts can go to your home phone and your cellphone. Visit http://www.co.routt.co.us to sign up.
When evacuating, be sure to take with you important documents and medications. Developing a list beforehand of these critical items will help you be organized during a stressful incident. Choose a route away from the fire whenever possible.
This article is intended to get you thinking about just a few of things you can do to protect yourself and your property from the threat of wildfire. There is a lot more information available, and we recommend you contact your local fire department or the Colorado State Forest Service for additional information and help.
Jackie Brown is the district manager for the Routt County Conservation District. She can be reached at 970-879-3225 or email@example.com.