Wildfire: How to Keep Your Home and Family Safe

According to the pamphlet “Wildfire: Are You and Your Home Prepared?” three quarters of wildfires are caused by the careless actions of people. These fires are preventable. “In the Great Lakes Region, more than one-quarter, or 1500 fires annually, are caused by careless burning by residents and children playing with matches.”

Although fire is a necessary and important part of an ecosystem, wildfires which occur in a wildland/urban interface can be dangerous. The wildland/urban interface includes: homes in rural/forested areas, homes located in close vicinity to wildland areas and suburban homes with large tracts of wetland and forest. As the numbers of people living in rural and forested areas increase, the danger inherent in this interface increases.

Wildland/urban interface fires are difficult to control. They generally occur in less populated areas, far from fire departments, where homes are scattered and not likely to be easily defended. In these areas, it is the homeowner’s responsibility to take steps to protect their homes from fire. You ultimately are responsible for planning to protect your buildings and property.

As it is in your best interest to protect your property from fire, the first step is to become educated and understand wildfire. A fire cannot exist unless three basic components are present: heat, fuel and oxygen. This is the fire triangle. Your job, as a homeowner, is to remove one of these elements, thereby protecting your home. The most easily removed element is fuel. If a wildfire is threatening your home, close heavy drapes and remove lightweight drapes/curtains. If possible, remove trees, tall grasses and other vegetation from around buildings.

What you should do

  • If you are building a new home, choose your location carefully. Make your site easy to find and access. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, all driveways and roads should be at least sixteen feet in width.
  • Research structural hazards and protective features such as eves, windows and heating systems. All homes should have a minimum of two different entrance/exit routes.
  • Use fire-resistant building materials whenever possible.
  • When landscaping around your home, use fire-resistant vegetation and space plants far apart so fire cannot spread to building structures and/or surrounding vegetation. Clean your roof and gutters frequently. Remove or prune trees and bushes close to your home and maintain an adequate fire break (free of fuel) around all structures.
  • Do not store burnables (especially firewood) against your house. Store gasoline and propane tanks away from buildings and flammable vegetation.
  • Prepare your family to know what to do in the event of a wildfire. Make escape routes known and practice them.
  • Be careful with yard waste. Do not store it against your home. When burning, obtain the proper permits and use care.
  • Keep firefighting equipment available and accessible, including shovels, buckets and hoses.
  • Maintain clear communication. Utilize neighborhood watches and local fire resources.
  • Understand the effect of weather on fire. Know what kind of weather to watch out for.