A J Enterprises LLC

The wildland fire threat

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Courtesy of A J Enterprises LLC

The threat of wildfire is a major concern to more and more homeowners as construction of homes moves into the Wildland Urban Interface. Periods of drought are frightening times for residents of suburban and rural areas across the country, including the Northwest, the West, and the Rocky Mountain states as well as the Southeast.

For those of us who live near natural areas of brush or forest, the dry seasons are especially hazardous. Experts advise us to mitigate the fire danger before construction begins and to plan firewise landscapes of widely spaced plantings (at least a 30 foot radius of 'Green Zone' around the house), keeping dry combustible plant debris cleaned up, and maintaining low, well-watered groundcovers and lawns. This advance preparation will often determine if your home is 'defensible' from the firefighters perspective. Here are some additional considerations:


Most rural fire departments are comprised of volunteer firefighters who are well trained. However, they are not generally present at the fire stations and therefor response times can be long. Volunteers ( I am one) must reach the fire stations after being notified, start the fire vehicles and drive to the fire scene. Pinpointing the actual location of the fire is often difficult due to terrrain that limits your visibility.

The fire scene may be quite far from the responding station. Often there may be simultaneous fires in multiple locations around your area or state. This creates an additional strain on limited resources.
Water supplies and firefighting equipment are limited and often, the only initial water supply is what the fire trucks themselves carry. A 'type 6' brush truck in our department carries just 300 gallons plus a selection of tools.
Water 'shuttles', made up of water tenders (large tank trucks) often must be established and coordinated as there may be no fire hydrants available to supply water. Drafting from ponds or tanks often replaces fire hydrants.
Narrow, steep roads and driveways may limit or even prevent access by emergency equipment. Bridges may have weight limitations that prevent large heavy trucks from reaching the fire. When wildfire does strike, it can occur with little warning and spread quickly. Fire crews and equipment can be overwhelmed by the task of fighting a rapidly advancing wildfire. There may simply not be enough personnel and equipment to defend every home. But you, the homeowner, can make a difference!

Homeowner Preparations: Create a 'Defensible Space' around your house.

Do these things well before a fire is approaching.

Remove standing dead trees.
Dispose of slash/debris and mow any dried grasses or weeds.
Remove dead limbs, leaves, pine needles and other litter from forest floor.
Stack firewood away from your home at least 30 feet.
Maintain irrigated greenbelt or remove all vegitation fuels for 30' around your house, decks, and any ornamental trees.
Prune other branches up 10 feet above the ground.
Clean leaves and pine needles from roof and gutters.
Reduce density of surrounding forest. ( 15' crown seperations minimum)
Remove trash and debris from the defensible space.
Remove any trees growing through the porch.
Remove branches overhanging chimney and roof.
Stack firewood uphill or on a contour away from the home.
Use noncombustible construction and roof materials whenever possible. REPLACE shake roofs.
Place shutters, fire curtains or heavy drapes on windows.
Place screens on foundation and eave vents to stop burning embers.
Enclose sides of stilt foundations and decks.
Use a chimney screen or spark arrester.
Clear vegetation around fire hydrants, cisterns, propane tanks, etc.
Make sure an outdoor water supply is available, with hose, nozzle and pump.
Make sure fire tools, ladder and fire extinguishers are available.
Post address signs that are clearly visible from the street or road.
Make sure the driveway is wide enough nd cleared high enough for fire trucks and equipment.
Post load limits on bridges.
Install and test smoke detectors.
Practice a family fire drill and evacuation plan well in advance. Look at all possible escape routes/roads and be aware emergency vehicles will be coming towards the fire you're going away from! Create your own overall escape plan and ensure all your family members know the plan.

Evacuation Tips:

If a wildfire is threatening your area, listen to your radio/TV for updated reports and evacuation information. Keep your phone line open in case emergency evacuation information is called to your phone using 'reverse 911'.
Confine pets to one room and make plans to take care of them in the event of evacuation. Use portable dog/cat kennels when possible.

It's best to evacuate horses and other large animals early as horse/stock trailers will hamper arriving emergency vehicles
Arrange for temporary housing with a friend or relative whose home is outside the threatened area. Leave a note in a prominent place in your home that says where and how you can be contacted. Make sure all family members are aware of the relocation site as part of your pre-planning.
If your home is threatened by wildfire, you will be contacted and advised by law enforcement officers to evacuate. If you are not contacted, or you decide to stay and help defend your home, evacuate pets and any family members not needed to protect your home.
Remove important documents, mementos, photos etc. and put them in your vehicle. Have this gathered together/boxed well ahead of time. Consider scaning all your photos and compiling them on a disk at another location than your home.
When evacuating, wear protective clothing: sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, hat and a handkerchief to protect your face.
Choose a route away from the fire if possible. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of the fire and smoke. Don't panic; drive safely.
Have a disaster supply kit prepared and take it with you containing at least:
Drinking water and emergency food rations (3 days supply X number of people in your family or group and don't forget your pets). Some additional water is advisable.
Blanket or sleeping bag for each person, children's games, playing cards, emergency poncho
First aid kit that includes any prescription medications, extra eyeglasses, and other specialty items for infants or elderly
Emergency tools including a battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries; survival knife and multi-tool
Extra set of car keys and credit cards, cash or traveler's checks

Defending Your Home

Whether you choose to stay to defend your home or to evacuate, complete as many of the following preparations as possible well ahead of time. But, before you start, pick a 'TRIGGER POINT'. If the fire gets to that stage or point, you must leave immediately without hesitation.

Do not jeopardize your life. No material item is worth a life. Remember: 'it's just stuff!' Fire can advance faster than you can run!

Wear a hat or hard hat, long pants and long sleeves and gloves. Avoid synthetic fabrics as they may melt to your skin.
Remove combustible materials from around all structures.
Close or cover outside vents and shutters.
Position garden hoses so they reach the entire house and roof. Have the hoses charged, with an adjustable nozzle, but turned off. If you have a sprinkler system for the exterior of your house, place the sprinklers into position. Charge sprinklers as burning embers begin falling ahead of advancing fire. Remember, however, most wells and water supplies have a limited capacity and take time to recover. Use your water wisely.
Place large full water containers around the house. Soak burlap bags or small rugs as these can be useful in extinguishing small spot fires before they get going.
Place a ladder against the roof of the house on the opposite side of the approaching wildfire. Place a garden hose near the ladder, prepared as described previously, so you can extinguish any burning embers that fall on your roof.
Place portable pumps near available water supplies, such as pools, hot tubs, creeks, etc.
If you have fire stopping gel (such as Barricade II)or foam, apply to structure well ahead of the advancing fire. 'Rewetting' may be necessary just before you leave. Gel/water mixture is extremely slippery so do not go on the roof.
Close all windows, doors and interior doors. Do not lock them.
Turn on a light in each room, and all outside lights and leave them on..
Shut off the gas at your outside meter or at your propane tank.
Close venetian blinds, heavy drapes or fire-resistant window coverings.
Move furniture into the center of the house, away from windows and sliding glass doors.
Park your vehicle in the garage, facing out until you're ready to leave. Close the windows but do not lock the doors. Leave the keys in the ignition.
Close the garage door but leave it unlocked and disconnect any electric opener.


But there is a further step you can take to stop wildfire from destroying your property.

Barricade II Fire Gel has saved hundreds of homes in the United States, earning the gratitude of property owners in California, Montana, Florida, Colorado and South Dakota, where firefighters have “Barricaded” homes and businesses ahead of the approaching flames.

Barricade is now available to homeowners who can apply the water/gel coating on their own property in front of an approaching wildfire, before retreating to a safe area. When mixed with water at the end of a garden hose, superabsorbent polymers in the gel concentrate trap water molecules and suspend them in millions of tiny “bubblets.” Sprayed onto the flammable surfaces of roofs, windows, eaves and walls of a house, vehicles, or propane tanks, a “wet blanket” wrap of Barricade can be applied up to 24 hours before an approaching wildfire. Homeowners can evacuate safely, and firefighting resources can be focused on the wildfire. The gel coated structures are protected. Barricade can be washed off with plain water after the fire danger has passed and poses no environmental threats to plants or animals.

(NOTE: Application of this fire retardent gel requires mixture with water in the proper proportions. This is accomplished via the kit's eductor and requires a minimum water pressure of 30psi. Please give ample consideration to backup electrical power for your well pump or an auxiallary pump and sufficient water supply from a storage tank, pond or pool. The gel does not retard flames but rather the water held in suspension by the gel creates the thermal protective barrier.)

There's a lot each homeowner can do to reduce the threats of wildfires to their families, pets, homes, and livestock. By preparing well in advance, creating a safety plan, and removing fuels near their homes, living in the 'wildland urban interface' can be much safer.

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