Preparing your home for wildfires, also called “hardening” your home, can minimize damage when a wildfire strikes. Although many people only consider damage from wildfires to be a result of a home coming into contact with flames, the truth is that there are three ways a building can be exposed to wildfire and the damage that comes with it:
- Radiant heat from nearby burning structures or plants
- Flying embers
- Direct flames from a burning neighboring home or fire
Flying embers have the potential to damage more than just homes that are directly near a burning object. They can destroy buildings up to a mile away. In fact, embers are responsible for the damage caused to most buildings during a wildfire, not direct contact with flames.
There are steps you can take to retrofit your home to be as hardened against fires as possible before a fire is in the area, and there are also short-term ways you can prepare your home for wildfires in the event of an immediate threat.
Long-Term Wildfire Preparedness
Retrofitting your home to better withstand potential future fires requires attention to many different parts of it, including:
- Eaves and soffits
- The roof (which is the most vulnerable part of the home)
- The chimney
- The garage
The overall idea of preparing your home long-term to survive a wildfire is to use as many fire- and heat-resistant materials in its construction and composition as possible.
- Remodel walls with stucco, treated wood, or fiber cement wall siding
- Install dual-pane windows with tempered glass panes
- Box in eaves and soffits and protect them with ignition-resistant materials
- Cover vent openings with metal mesh and use flame-resistant vents
- Re-roof with materials like metal, tile, clay, or composite
- Cover chimneys with non-flammable screen and close the flue during fire season
- Keep gutters clear of plant debris and covered to prevent debris buildup
- Build decks with non-combustible materials
The garage should house a fire extinguisher and tools like a bucket, hose, and shovel for fire emergencies.
Install weatherstripping around and under the door to stop embers from blowing in. Always keep flammables away from ignition sources, and treat windows and vents in the garage the same way you treat the ones in the house.
Fire Preparedness for Approaching Wildfires – Immediate Threat
When a wildfire is threatening your home, there are things you can do to prepare your home and mitigate as much damage as possible:
Pay Attention to Warnings and Alerts
The first and possibly most important step is recognizing warning signs and paying attention to alerts. The FEMA app is one way to receive these alerts. You can also receive real-time alerts from the National Weather Service and sign up for community alerts in your area.
Create a Fire-Resistant Zone Around Your Home
This fire-resistant zone should be free of debris, leaves, and all flammable materials. The defensible space should extend at least 30 feet from your house.
Trim any tree branches hanging over the house’s chimney, roof, and eaves. Move wood piles to gravel or bare areas or in an enclosed shed at least 30 feet away from your home.
Designate One Room as a Clean Room
This room should be one you can close off from the outside air. All doors and windows should be closed in this room, and a portable air cleaner should be present to keep indoor pollution levels low during smoky conditions. You can find further information on clean rooms on the EPA website.
Be Ready to Evacuate Quickly
If orders demand that you evacuate, DO SO! Know ahead of time where you will go, where you will stay, what you will bring, and how you will get there.
If an order to evacuate has not been given, but you feel unsafe, are having trouble with wildfire smoke, or your cleanroom has become unsafe due to power loss or contamination, evacuate.
After the Threat: Clean-Up and Restoration
After the threat of wildfire passes, you will need professional wildfire damage restoration and cleaning. Soot and smoke, along with water damage, must be addressed as quickly as possible to prevent further damage to the home and keep illness from befalling you and your family.
Even if the damage is not readily visible, make sure to have a professional remediation team perform an inspection, just in case.