Wildfire season has been particularly bad over the last couple of years, with fires spreading across much of northern California. People who live in fire country can’t completely escape wildfire season without relocation, however, you can take steps to protect yourself, your family, and your home from wildland fires.
It’s vital that you do this now rather than scrambling when there is a disaster and making things worse. Many of the things you need to do take time and planning to achieve.
When is Wildfire Season?
The timing of wildfire season varies from place to place, but typically in northern California, it lasts from May to October, although fires can now happen at almost any time of the year. Peak risk time, however, is September to October because of the Santa Ana winds and drier vegetation from the summer heat.
It tends to be shorter as you travel north, and wildfire season typically ends with the first significant autumn rainfall. Locally, wildfire season may be variable and you should always pay attention to local alerts and conditions.
Are Wildfires Increasing in Severity?
The short answer is, yes. Increased temperatures have led to more severe fires and a longer fire season. Drought also affects the severity of fire season. Management changes are being studied to help reduce fire risk. However, there is an expectation for wildfires to be worse as well as spread more rapidly.
How Can I Protect My Home from Wildfires?
The most important way to protect your property is through buffering. Cutting back vegetation around your house reduces the risk of embers setting fire to your home itself or to your landscaping. The best way to set up a buffer is to:
- Put hardscaping four feet around your home. This means things like flagstones as well as gravel. You can use this space for a patio, but don’t store firewood here and choose patio furniture that does not burn easily.
- Grow low growing, light foundation shrubs, grass, and similar for the next thirty feet out. No trees within thirty feet.
- For the next 100 feet, thin out trees as well as shrubs and remove branches close to the ground. Have wide paths that can act as firebreaks.
Keep your yard free of dead plants, dry leaves, pine needles, etc. Be particularly careful to clean this from your roof and rain gutters. When selecting landscaping, avoid:
- Eucalyptus (these trees burn like a torch), pines, junipers, hollies, as well as any other plants that have waxy or oily stems.
- Bark mulch. Use gravel, decorative rock, or bark-and-rock.
Choose foundation plantings that are somewhat fire-resistant. Azaleas, boxwoods, hydrangeas, burning bushes, and succulents are also good.
For your home itself, consider the following:
- It is vital that your roof is properly fire-rated. Consider replacing your roof. Talk to the contractor about using materials with a Class A fire rating, such as asphalt composition shingles or tile.
- Clean your gutters frequently.
- Install ember and flame resistant mesh on your home’s vents and regularly check them. If you have enough warning, cover your vents with plywood or seal them from the inside with metal tape. Many fires start when embers are blown into vents.
- Clean debris and vegetation from under your deck and around any outbuildings.
- Do not store anything combustible under your deck. Keep it clean. If repairing or replacing, use fire-retardant materials.
- If replacing windows, choose multi-pane tempered glass, which is less likely to break when heated.
- Inspect your siding regularly for gaps.
- Consider an external sprinkler system that can dampen the area around the house.
When Fire Threatens
If you know a wildfire is threatening your home, you need to:
- Follow all evacuation orders. Make sure you have an evacuation plan and that wherever you are planning on going will take any pets. Include more than one escape route, a designated meeting area, and a single point of contact. If livestock cannot be evacuated, then mark them with your phone number using animal safe spray or a sharpie on hooves, and leave them in a preselected, cleared area or turn them loose, closing the barn door so they don’t run back inside.
- Move propane tanks a distance from your home and other structures.
- Bring patio furniture inside your home.
- Make sure all doors and windows are firmly closed.
Talk to firefighters about your evacuation plan as they often have good recommendations and can help with safe evacuation routes. You should also sign up for local alerts, which will allow firefighters to notify you during an ongoing fire situation of evacuation orders, containment percentages, and smoke issues. We can’t avoid wildfire season, but there are things we can do to protect ourselves and our property.