Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The fires and Reindeer...really

First I have to write about what I saw today.  Reindeer.  Lots of them.  And a zebra and camels.  You just never know what you will come across when you are out hiking in the hills.  The pictures didn't turn out well or I would have included them in the post.  But I really did see these animals today.  I guess some people aren't satisfied with just dogs or cats as pets.

With the fires burning in Texas over 500 homes have burned to the ground.  Fires in California have burned another dozen.  In many cases the homes could have been saved if the owners had spent a little extra time making them more fire safe.  In California homeowner requirements for clearing brush around your house used to be 30 feet.  It's now 100 feet.  That doesn't mean 100 denuded feet but making it so that the fire won't carry to the house.  If you live on a slope or the area around you is sloped then you should have a cleared area larger than 100 feet.

Don't get complacent because you don't live in the forest.  Wildfires can happen in grasslands and also in the desert.  Your neighbor's house can catch on fire and it can ignite yours. 

The fury of the fire can burn down a house because of the embers that are flying in the air, even if there is nothing growing around the house, but if you have that 100 foot clearance your chances are much better.  This means that although the woodpile is really convenient on your back patio (or in my case the shed about 20 feet from the house) if it catches fire it is an added ignition spot for your house.  Think of all those embers plus the heat that it will produce. 

Let's start with the house.  If you have to replace your roof make it one that is fire resistant.  In California they've outlawed the old shake roofs.  Nothing like having the tinder right on your rooftop for a small ember to ignite the house.  The siding, patio and patio cover all can be fire resistant.  The plants you plant may mean fire or fire safety.  If you have gutters on your roof make sure they are cleaned out.  Any vents or other openings on your house should have 1/8th inch screen covering them.  Those rooftop little turban fans are great for keeping heat out of your attic and will just suck in embers flying around. 

I'm not worried about the house I live in but the bug-out place is a fire hazard.  It doesn't have even a 1 foot clearance.  It doesn't have a bunch of brush right next to the house but it does have grasses that die during the summer.  These grasses come right up to the house.  If a fire came through the bug-out place would be gone.  I'm surprised that the fire department hasn't cited me yet.  (Perhaps it's because they don't want to travel down the road.)

Rake the dead leaves, needles, and branches.  Don't just leave them piled, get rid of them or get them far away from the house.  Also make sure nothing is under the house: no leaves or trash. 

Trim your trees.  Make sure the there isn't what's called "ladder fuels" which means that if a fire is on the ground it can climb up the tree by burning the lower branches and just working its way up the branches and trunk.  Also, while it looks nice to have a continuous canopy, you should have space between the tops of each tree.  There shouldn't be overlapping branches: at least not within 100 or so feet from your house.   

We have fire tools.  Do you?  Rakes, shovels, Pulaskis, McLeods, hoes, buckets, hoses, nozzles, chain saw or hand saw?  We have all these, and more than one of most of the items.  How about a ladder that will reach your roof?  While that's not something you want out for safety reasons, if a wildfire is heading your direction and you may have to leave, leaving a ladder outside is a good idea.

A fire may come into your area so fast that you don't have time to prepare, in other cases you may have several days before the fire reaches where you live.  If you have time to prepare you are lucky.  There are several things that you can do while you wait. 

Park your car in the garage.  Back it in.  Keep the keys in it.  Keep it unlocked.  Have your bug-out bag in the car.  If you have an automatic garage door opener disable it.  You may not have electricity and when it's time to leave it's not the time to worry about having to disable the door. 

Keep your pets in one room.  That way it will be easy to gather them up when it's time to leave.

Close the doors, windows, vents, non-combustible or heavy window coverings.  Shut off all gas utilities.    Open the fireplace damper but close the screens.  Move the furniture into the center of the house away from windows and sliding glass doors.  Turn lights on in the house. 

Make sure each water spigot has a long garden hose attached to it.  Wet down the plants around the house.  Wet down the house and roof.  Turn the sprinklers on. 

You really don't want to rely on staying in a shelter.  Have a plan to stay with friends or in a hotel, which can be expensive.  Around here, hotel rooms are impossible to get when there's a fire.  The fire departments book up all the rooms. 

If you have to evacuate make sure you are wearing the appropriate clothes.  It may be hot out but you need to dress safely.  Wear heavy shoes or boots, long pants made of cotton, a long sleeve shirt made of cotton or wool, leather gloves, a hat, and a scarf to help cover your face. 

Of course you will remember your valuable papers.  That's already in your plan, right?  One thing that's been suggested to me, and I've passed it along to many other people.  If you like to cook and you have a bunch of favorite recipes, scan the recipes.  Let's just say your house burns down.  It's now six months later, you and your family are safe and in a rental home waiting for your house to be rebuilt.  It's Thanksgiving or Christmas.  It will help you emotionally if you have your own recipes to use while cooking. 

Have nothing to do next weekend?  Visit your local fire station.  They will be happy to talk to you, show you (and the kids) their engines, and give you all kinds of pointers.  You can even have them come to your house to conduct an inspection to tell you what you can specifically do to protect both the interior and exterior of your home from fire. 


  1. Excellent post, as always.....that's why I read yours daily.....thanks for pointing things out that normally slip my mind.

  2. Not every house can be made fire resistant. I live in the woods a dry pine woodland. I could cut every tree on my property and move my firewood to town and it would not stop my house from burning if we have a wildfire. The house is made of milled cedar logs and is highly flamable. It is more likely that my woodpile would catch fire from the embers of my home. So if we have a wildfire I will grab a few things and drive 20 miles to town and wait it out.

  3. I agree that not every house can be made fire resistant. It is heartbreaking to see house after house destroyed when a little prevention may have saved the home. Another thing to think about is that when the fire department has to choose between house A and house B, the house that has prevention work done is the house they will choose to protect since it is a safer environment for the firefighters.

    There are also foams and sprays you can spray on your house which will protect it if the fire is coming. There is a fire wrap but it is so expensive that only the forest service uses it.