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Preparations for Wildfire Season

Multiple factors in the recent past have contributed to an increase in the number of wildfires year-round: Fuel is readily available from timber, wild grasses, and brush. Temperatures favor wildfires in that both higher environmental temperatures and high velocity winds result in increased size, speed and intensity of fire spread. With this in mind, let’s consider homes in the vicinity of a wildfire that is spreading quickly. When these homes are located in what is called the Wildfire Urban interface (WUI) they are at high risk for igniting. The WUI is the area where human development, including structures and infrastructures, meet undeveloped wildlands. The risk to people and property from a fire spreading from the undeveloped wildland to developed communities can be devastating.

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Firewise Communities/USA is a national program administered by The National Fire Protection Association and locally guided by the Department of Forestry and Fire Management partnering with communities that have committed to developing a Firewise Program. The goal of the program is to put in place proactive measures to mitigate fire damage and devastation to people and structures. Typically, these communities are located in WUI wildfire encroachment area.

Let’s look at some terminology that are elements of the FireWise program

Home Ignition Zone:

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The Home Ignition Zone is the area that includes your home and the area surrounding your home for up to 100 feet. The area is divided into three zones:
Immediate Zone: 0-5 feet around the house.
Intermediate Zone: 5-30 feet around the house.
Extended Zone: 30 -100 feet around the home

Fire Resistant Construction:

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This term describes the “building blocks” of the home and other structures which are designed to withstand high temperature for an extended period of time. This will delay the spread of fire from one type of material to adjacent materials and areas.   These materials have ratings based on the amount of time the material lasts when a controlled burn test is performed. The higher the rating, the more time the material will hold up. The safety advantage of using this type of material is multifold.

Delaying the time frame for a building to ignite buys time for building occupants to escape and for fire fighters to continue firefighting efforts.

Class A Fire Rated Material:

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Fire rated material refers to classification of speed of spread of flames and smoke development. Class A is the category that allows the most delay in fire spread and smoke development. For the purposes of this article, all materials that will be part of the Firewise home are Class A fire rated.

Ignition:

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This term refers to an object igniting in flames. Remember the fire triangle: Fire only occurs when heat, oxygen and a fuel source meet. FireWise will aid in identifying the building materials that need to be removed and replaced by Class A Fire rated materials. Firewise will also aid in identifying the outdoor environment in all three Ignition Zones to minimize flammable fuel sources.

Be FIREWISE Create a Defensible Space:

Protecting Your Home

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This Firewise Publication from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) will summarize how your home and property can be adapted to a Firewise and thus safety conscious approach. Focus is directed to landscaping, use of fire-resistant building materials, and awareness of specific areas such as roofs, vents, decks, and porches and adapting fire preventive measures to these areas.

The discussion of protecting homes at the Wildfire Urban Interface is not unique to Fire Protection agencies. The cost of lives and properties has become a discussion in the world of Home Insurances. In some cases, Insurers are no longer renewing fire damage contracts to homes in these zones or increasing fire protection fee rates significantly. Communities recognized by Fire Wise USA are eligible for Fire Insurance discounts by specific insurers where wildfires are prevalent.

Of interest to Southwest Arizona residents, the state of Arizona had a Time for Action Week that kicked off on March 25, this year, highlighting the need to clear areas around the home and property of debris and ignitable fuel. This serves as a reminder that wildfires have become a local, state, and national issue. We are also reminded the Southern Arizona and the Sonoran Desert are considered to be at risk for wildfires.

Finally, here’s a list of things you could do around your home to minimize the spread of fire.

Science tells us this is the most important zone to take immediate action on as it is the most vulnerable to embers. START WITH THE HOUSE ITSELF then move into the landscaping section of the Immediate Zone.

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Immediate zone

  • Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles that could catch embers.
  • Replace or repair any loose or missing shingles or roof tiles to prevent ember penetration.
  • Reduce embers that could pass through vents in the eaves by installing 1/8-inch metal mesh screening.
  • Clean debris from exterior attic vents and install 1/8-inch metal mesh screening to reduce embers.
  • Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens and any broken windows Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.
  • Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches.

Intermediate zone

5-30’ from the furthest exterior point of the home. Landscaping/hardscaping- employing careful landscaping or creating breaks that can help influence and decrease fire behavior.

  • Clear vegetation from under large stationary propane tanks.
  • Create fuel breaks with driveways, walkways/paths, patios, and decks.
  • Keep lawns and native grasses mowed to a height of four inches.
  • Remove ladder fuels (vegetation under trees) so a surface fire cannot reach the crowns.  Prune trees up to six to ten feet from the ground; for shorter trees do not exceed 1/3 of the overall tree height.
  • Space trees to have a minimum of eighteen feet between crowns with the distance increasing with the percentage of slope.
  • Tree placement should be planned to ensure the mature canopy is no closer than ten feet to the edge of the structure.
  • Trees and shrubs in this zone should be limited to small clusters of a few each to break up the continuity of the vegetation across the landscape.

Remember to update your emergency plan. Wildfire is just one of several concerns we face.  Be sure to inspire others to do the same.

“Remember the ember”
Firewise plans ahead for prevention, and in fact, remembers the embers.