The Dangers of Wildfires

As I hear about all the fires in the news, I am concern about how many people do not have a good understanding of the dangers of wildfire.  I have spent many years in the fire service and have fought Wildland fires.

I see people building retreats in remote areas without taking the terrain and fire load into consideration.  Houses build on ridgelines and hills need larger firebreaks surrounding them.  Remember heat rises and fires that are coming uphill will be faster and hotter.  This causes more preheating.  Current fire suppression methods have prevented fires in many areas for long periods of time.  This causes a buildup of dead and highly flammable brush and debris.  The way the government is cutting the fire service today it’s adding to the problem.

This means that it is even more important that you take good preventative measures.  The first thing is to make sure that your yard meets at least local fire codes.  In California that means you have a defensible space of 100 feet around your home.  A hundred feet sounds like a lot, but consider the number of homes that are destroyed by wild fires in California every year that meet this requirement.  Remember, that this is with fire suppression efforts, including fire trucks and planes.  If this equipment is not available, you have a much bigger problem.

Depending on where you reside some or all of these suggestions will probably apply.  Most rural areas of the United States have at least a moderate potential for wildfires.

Your House

First, use ignition resistant construction as much as possible.  This includes a fire resistant roof.  Enclose the undersides of eaves, balconies and above ground decks with fire resistant materials.  Exteriors should be of stucco, block, concrete or other nonflammable materials where possible.  This helps to protect you from radiated heat and falling debris and sparks.

Make sure that you have clear access routes to and from your house.  Clear flammable materials a minimum of at least ten feet from roadways and five from driveways.

If you live on a ridge, hill or edge of a canyon, the greatest fire danger will come from the low laying areas.  Fire and heat always rises.

Your Yard

Remove dead leaves and needles from your roofs, gutters and around your home or out buildings.  Cut back dead branches that overhang your home.

Keep your woodpile at least 30 feet from all structures.  Locate LPG (propane) tanks at least 30 feet from structures preferably more.  Maintain a good clearance around the tank.  If possible, locate your propane tank downhill from your residence.  If the tank leaks, propane is heavier than air and flows downhill like water.

A home within one mile of a natural wild area is at risk of flying embers.  Wind-driven embers can start small fires in your yard, if you allow leaves, trash or other debris to accumulate.  Small fires can rapidly turn into big ones.

Defensible Space

In California, this consists of two parts, a 30 foot clear zone and a seventy foot reduced fuel zone.  All flammable vegetation, dead or dying plants should be removed from the clear zone.

In the reduced fuel zone, remove surface litter (leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones etc.) so that it does not exceed a depth of three 3 inches. Remove dead trees, stumps and old logs.  Grasses should not exceed four inches.

Clearance between brush and trees should not be closer than the minimum shown below.

Fire Ladder or vertical clearance

Low branches on trees create ladders for low fires to climb into the treetops.  Use the chart below to determine the minimum clearance from the ground. Remember that these recommendations are based on a fire department response.  You may want to exceed these guidelines.  Check with your local fire Department for additional information.


1 thought on “The Dangers of Wildfires”

  1. Matt in Oklahoma

    Do not wait until someone tells you to packup, leave or even think about leaving. Someone in prepardness should think for themselves and be at least one step ahead. Every year people die and the survivors all whine becasue “No one told me to leave”. Just this morning someone on another blog was whining because he had to hurry and pack up and bug out. Why? The fires have been there for days, if he was REAL he woulda already been packed, fueled, mapped and maybe even gone!!!

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