You can help your home survive a wildfire by doing simple jobs that also improve your home’s appearance:
Keep grasses cut low
Rain keeps our fire danger low for a while, but it also helps the grasses grow tall. When tall grass dries out, it becomes light, flashy fuel where fires start easily and travel quickly.
In the area within 50 to 100 feet of your structures, cut grass down to four to six inches in height. This will help protect your structures by reducing the size and intensity of fires.
Also cut the grass under any trees or bushes with low-hanging branches, in an area extending three to five feet from the tree’s drip line. This will reduce the chance that tall grasses will become “ladder fuel” that carries a small ground fire into the crowns of the trees.
By keeping grasses short, you’ll help wildfires stay small and on the ground, where firefighters have a better chance of managing them.
Stack firewood away from your house
Firewood stacked close to your house, or under your deck, is like a time bomb. When wildfire embers settle into your wood pile, they will slowly build a fire that can destroy your home.
But you can reduce this risk by moving your wood pile at least 30 feet away from your house. Wood should be stacked level with the house or uphill, and at least 15 feet away from overhanging tree limbs.
For convenience on cold nights, keep a small wood supply indoors, in a utility room, enclosed shed, or garage.
We call these overcrowded, spindly saplings “doghair” because they’re thick as the hair on a dog’s back. But we should really call them just what they are: Dangerous fuel that makes wildfires more intense. Doghair acts as kindling that turns small ground fires into raging crown fires that are almost impossible to control.
In a wild, uninhabited forest, nature removes these excess saplings with frequent, low-intensity fires. When we choose to live in the forest, we must clear out the doghair ourselves. Fortunately, you can remove this dangerous fuel with a simple bow saw or a pair of branch loppers.
We call those low-hanging branches “ladder fuel” because they can easily carry a tame ground fire into the crowns of the pines. Once the fire is in the treetops, it becomes a huge fire that’s extremely hard to control. But you can help a fire stay on the ground by taking its ladder away: Simply cut off those low-hanging limbs.
For tall, mature trees, remove all limbs at least ten feet off the ground. A bow saw on the end of a pole (shown here) is a good tool for that job, because it lets you work safely from the ground.
When limbing smaller trees that you want to keep, trim the lower 1/3 of the tree’s height.
Keep your tools clean and sharp
- Chainsaws: Dig out the owner’s manual, and follow its recommendations for cleaning and routine maintenance. Sharpen the chain, or replace it. If you’re not confident doing these jobs, take your chainsaw to a saw shop. Winter is their slow time, too!
- Hand saws: Replace damaged or dull blades, or have a saw shop sharpen them. Remove sticky sap by wiping the blade with a small amount of solvent (follow the safety instructions, and stay away from heat sources). Buff off rust with fine sandpaper or plain steel wool. Protect clean blades by wiping lightly with oil.