Homeowners can begin any time to make their homes and communities safer.
You can mow dry grasses and weeds and brush around your home, clean dead vegetation out of your gutters and near decks and develop a plan for evacuating your home in the event of a fire, Jon Skinner, a fire mitigation manager with the Bureau of Land Management, told the Statesman in 2008.
The Statesman talked to fire experts following the Oregon Trail Fire, which burned 20 houses in Columbia Village and killed one person in August 2008. That fire led Boise to upgrade its regulations to requires homeowners to make their homes more “firewise.”
We can effectively make our homes and communities into fuel breaks that make them more fire-resistant during wildfires.
Jack Cohen, fire behavior expert
But the most important part of the house for surviving fire is the roof. Fire experts recommend fire-resistant roofs. Skinner also recommended putting quarter-inch screens in soffit vents and under decks to keep flying embers out.
“Many people feel that what they do around their homes won’t matter in the face of a fast-moving wildfire like ... when, in fact, it’s what matters most,” said Skinner.
Clearing out brush and trees around homes, choosing fire-resistant shrubs and designing homes to reduce their flammability are the most effective ways to reduce the threat of fire, the National Fire Protection Association says.
The key area is within 100 to 200 feet of homes, said Jack Cohen, a fire behavior expert at the Forest Service’s Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula, Mont.
“My research shows we can effectively make our homes and communities into fuel breaks that make them more fire-resistant during wildfires.”
Research since 2008 has shown that once fire burns into just one home in a community, that can be enough to shatter the firebreak and turn it into a city fire, Cohen has said. Once that happens, it can quickly overwhelm urban firefighting resources such as in Colorado Springs, where the 2012 Waldo Fire burned 346 homes. The Black Forest Fire there in 2013 burned 509 homes and killed two people.
Fire, generally, doesn’t threaten communities with a wall of fire, but with embers. Embers showered Harris Ranch on Thursday and a wind change and firewise-built houses kept the fire from spreading to more homes.
Christina Haydon was a BLM engine crew leader before she became a fire prevention and information officer for the agency. She consulted with residents about how they can make their homes and neighborhoods safer.
She uses her experience as a fire boss to talk about how she decided whether to put people at risk to save a home that had no firewise work done.
“We just move on to the next house where they took the time to firewise it,” she said.
Be prepared for evacuation
The American Red Cross advises residents to have a plan in place for family members and have responsibilities clearly delegated.
“Wildfires can move very quickly,” Nicole Irwin, Regional CEO of the American Red Cross of Idaho and Montana, said in a news release. “It is important to have a plan in place and to evacuate immediately when officials give the order.”
- Assemble an emergency kit to take with you when you evacuate.
- Prepare an information kit with documents like medical, banking and insurance records.
- Save a list of emergency numbers on every cellphone.
- Plan ahead for your pets and livestock.
- Identify a place to meet in case you are separated.
- Plan and practice several evacuation routes from your neighborhood.
Tips if an evacuation is imminent:
- Tune in to news reports for updated emergency information.
- Limit exposure to smoke and dust. Keep indoor air clean by closing (but not locking) windows and doors. Close curtains, shutters, and blinds. Use the recycle mode on your air conditioner.
- Turn on exterior lights.
- Remove flammable items from decks and porches.
- Open gates for animals that cannot be evacuated.
- Connect a hose to an outside spigot, mark any water sources on your property and leave a ladder for firefighters.
- Put your emergency kit in your car. Back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape, with windows closed and keys in the ignition.
- Put your best driver at the wheel. Turn on lights, drive slowly and watch out for emergency vehicles.
- Evacuate as soon as the order is given. Don’t delay.