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In 2020, as we’ve been dealing with the ongoing effects of COVID-19, the last thing anyone wanted was to add significant natural disasters to that. Unfortunately, that’s what happened.
The west coast was particularly impacted by a number of serious wildfires. From January 1 to November 6, 2020, there were more than 48,800 wildfires. Around 8.6 million acres burned in that period in 2020, compared to 4.6 million acres burning in 2019. Some of California’s largest wildfires ever occurred in 2020.
If you live near a place prone to wildfires, it’s important to have a general understanding of these events and what you might be able to do.
Wildfires lead to a tragic loss of life and property, and the following are key things to be aware of.
What States Are Most at Risk of Wildfires?
Some of the states that are most at risk for wildfires and have the most properties overall at risk include:
Wildfires are most common where there are drought conditions and dry undergrowth. The presence of flammable and combustible materials also raise the risk of wildfires.
The more development there is in an area, the more likely homes and businesses will be destroyed.
The wind is primarily what spreads wildfires. Homes that burn during wildfires most commonly catch fire from live embers that are carried by the wind.
Also, when there are homes that are close to one another, such as in subdivisions and neighborhoods, the fire is more likely to spread and to do so more quickly. Homes that are less than 15 feet apart from one another are most at risk. Decks and fences can also speed up the spread of fire.
Steps to Reduce Wildfire Risks
There are a lot of things citizens can do every day to protect their property and reduce the risk of wildfires.
Some things you can do include:
Avoid burning on windy days or when there hasn’t been much rain and conditions are dry. Local governments typically issue burn bans in specific conditions, but even if there isn’t a ban, it’s better to be cautious.
- If you’re planning to burn, you might talk to your local fire department first or avoid doing it in wildfire season.
- Removing brush is an important part of preventing fires. Brush is kindling, especially during dry seasons. Regularly trim growth on trees and bushes. Try to avoid having any excessive under or overgrowth on your property. If you live in an area prone to wildfires, you might want to have at least a 30-foot buffer with no vegetation all the way around your home.
- Don’t leave fires unattended. For example, if you’re using a fire pit in your backyard, someone should always be watching it. If a fire starts to spread, you’ll need equipment nearby like rakes, shovels, and water hoses that will help you stop it.
- In some places, you need permission from your local fire authority before burning anything.
- Sparks from other sources can cause wildfires quickly. For example, a spark from your grill, or perhaps a cigarette or firework spark can be a wildfire danger, especially in dry places. When you light even a very small flame, keep track of any sparks.
- If you have a lot of vegetation on your property, you might install sprinklers.
- A lot of common items that are around your home can increase your first risk and may be considered combustible. These items can include patio furniture and their cushions, rattan mats, and general outdoor décor.
- Your local community should provide plenty of information, news, and announcements to the area during wildfire season. Make sure you pay attention to that information. If you receive a warning that a fire could spread in your direction you should make plans to leave right away.
If a wildfire does affect where you live, you should already have a family evacuation plan in place.
Components of a comprehensive evacuation plan include:
- Have a plan to leave your community or neighborhood. You may need to have several routes you can follow if necessary.
- Designate a family meetup place if someone can’t get in touch or doesn’t have their phone. The designated meet-up area should be far enough away from your affected neighborhood.
- Have a plan for what you’ll bring with you. If it’s wildfire season where you live, everyone in your family might want a pre-packed bag of essentials.
- How many vehicles will you take? If you take more than one, then yes,you’re keeping that asset safe, but it can also increase the risk you’re separated from your family.
Building Features That Help Prevent Damage
If you live in an area with a lot of wildfire activity, there are certain things you can do. First, wildfire fuel includes wood, wood-plastic products, plastic, and foliage.
Some tips for a safer building space include:
- Have at least five feet of what is called defensible space around your home. This can mean for example that you have a five-foot diameter of space that is concrete, brick, or gravel adjacent to your home. The most important thing here is to make sure you choose non-combustible materials to create this.
- Use non-combustible siding.
- Regularly clean your gutters and roof. Debris that’s left in those areas can be ignited by embers that are blown by the wind.
- Consider investing in a Class A fire-rated roof.
- Use tempered, multi-pane glass.
- Fireproof your deck if you can, using boards that adhere to certain requirements. For example, California has requirements for new construction in areas that are prone to wildfires.
- Use non-combustible gate and fence material.
- Use mesh to cover your vents to prevent embers from entering.
Wildfires can be terrifying, but for some people, the threat is very real. While you can’t entirely avoid the risk in many circumstances, there are things you can do to mitigate the potential that you contribute to a wildfire and that it damages your property.