Becoming more fire wise in winter |

Becoming more fire wise in winter

Virginia Gompertz

The High Fire Season is long over because of the soaking rain, thank goodness! However, there are a few things we can all do this winter to become more fire wise.

Right now, we’re in Cal-Fire’s “Be Ready” stage of fire season, which means it’s a good time to prepare our homes and yards. Cal-Fire says to “create and maintain defensible space and harden your home against flying embers.”

As we all know, we live in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), where urban sprawl is intermixed with the forest. We live in a high fire risk area, according to Cal-Fire.

The Insurance Institute of Business and Home Safety (IBHS), defines Zone 1 as the “Home Ignition Zone” and is zero to five feet around the perimeter of your home. This zone is of utmost importance to homeowners.

“The objective of this area is to reduce the chance of wind-blown embers from a nearby fire landing near the home, igniting combustible debris or materials and exposing the home to flames. This zone is closest to the house, so it requires the most careful selection and management of vegetation and other materials.” Source: “Wildfire Home Assessment & Checklist” from the IBSH.

So, what can we do this winter to prepare?

1. Fire Wise Gardening in your Yard

“While it’s cool out and before things are getting ready to sprout, trim your vegetation,” says Barbara Tiegs, chairman of the Fire Risk Reduction Working Group.

— Clean under plants. Get rid of all the dead debris.

— Remove dead twigs and limbs. A good rule of thumb is trim back no more than one-third of the plant to keep it from stressing and/or dying.

— Cut grasses to a nub. Lavender and rosemary can be cut way back too. They grow back nice and green instead of having all the woody material.

— Check your sprinklers and drip lines. They’re easier to see now that the vegetation has died back. Check to make sure they are working properly and replace any heads if needed.

— Use non-combustible rock mulch within five feet of your home. There is a brown/black/tan lava rock mulch that looks very similar to wood chips.

— Never use gorilla hair for mulch. It burns incredibly fast and is like pouring gasoline on the ground.

— Trim tree limbs 10 feet from the roof line. Branches overhanging your roof will result in more leaves accumulated on the roof, the gutters and around your home. Always keep tree limbs 10 feet from your fireplace chimney.

2. Harden Places on Your Home

— Winter is a great time to clean out the leaf debris remaining from fall. Clean gutters and around skylights, roof pipe vents and roof valleys. Rake debris away from your home at least five feet away (if not 10 feet away). Notice where leaves accumulate. This is where flying embers would accumulate too. Remember these areas (keep a drawing of your home) and make sure they are always cleaned out during High Fire Season.

— Place 1/8-inch screening on your vents: Attic vents, bird vents (in eaves) and crawl space vents. No one wants their insulation to catch fire in their attic or under the house. “Most older homes have 1/4-inch screening,” says Barbara, “and flying embers can easily go through a 1/4-inch screen.” According to the IBHS test results, 1/8-inch screening keeps most, if not all, of the embers out.

— If you’re replacing your deck, use non-combustible material like cement fiber board (Hardy Board).

— If you’re replacing your fence, use non-combustible material like metal, especially within five feet of your home. Remember, if your fence catches fire, you don’t want it to lead a path to your home.

— If replacing your siding, use non-combustible siding.

— If your replacing window, use double panes. They provide an extra pane of protection.

— If replacing your roof, use Class A roofing material.

More information about the “Ready, Set, Go!” program can be found on Cal-Fire’s website:

More information about Hardening Your Home and the “Wildfire Home Assessment Checklist” can be found on the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety website:

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