Be Prepared for Wildland Fire

If you are at risk for wildland fire, you should:

  • Talk with members of your household about wildland fires—how to help prevent them and what to do if one occurs.
  • Make sure that fire vehicles can get to your home by clearly marking all driveway entrances and displaying your name and address. Make sure the driveway is wide enough to allow fire emergency vehicles easy access to the home with ample turnaround space. Keep the driveway in good condition.
  • Post fire emergency telephone numbers by every phone in your home. In a wildland fire, every second counts.
  • Plan and practice two ways out of your neighborhood. Your primary route may be blocked; know another way out just in case. (See “Evacuation and Sheltering, and Postdisaster Safety.”)
  • Identify and maintain an adequate water source outside your home, such as a small pond, cistern, well, swimming pool, or hydrant. Keep a garden hose that is long enough to reach any area of the home and other structures on the property. Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of the home and near other structures on the property. Install additional outlets at least 50 feet (15 meters) from the home. Firefighters may be able to use them.
  • Keep handy household items that can be used as fire tools: a rake, ax, hand saw or chain saw, bucket, and shovel. You may need to fight small fires before emergency responders arrive. Having this equipment will make your efforts more effective.
  • Develop a wildland fire-specific evacuation plan and coordinate it with your Family Disaster Plan.

Protect Your Property

If you live in an area at risk for wildland fire, you should:

  • Design and landscape your home and outbuildings with wildland fire safety in mind. Obtain local building codes and weed-abatement ordinances for structures built near wooded areas. There may be restrictions on the types of materials or plants allowed in residential areas. Following local codes or recommendations will help reduce the risk of injury to you and damage to your property.
  • Select building materials and plants that can help resist fire rather than fuel it. Use fire-resistant or noncombustible materials (tile, stucco, metal siding, brick, concrete block, or rock) on the roof and exterior structure of the dwelling. Treat wood or combustible materials used in roofs, siding, decking, or trim with fire-retardant chemicals that have been listed by the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) or other certification laboratories. Avoid using wooden shakes and shingles for a roof. Use only thick, tempered safety glass in large windows. Sliding glass doors are already required to be made of tempered safety glass.
  • Have electrical lines installed underground if you live in an area where this is an option. There is a greater chance of fire from overhead lines that fall or are damaged, such as in an earthquake or storm.
  • Create safety zones to separate your home and outbuildings, such as barns, from plants and vegetation. (Consult your local fire department for recommendations about the safety zones for your property.) Maintain the greatest distance possible between your home and materials that may burn in a wildland fire. Within this area, you can take steps to reduce potential exposure to flames and radiant heat. Stone walls can act as heat shields and deflect flames. Swimming pools and patios can help define safety zones.
  • If your home sits on a steep slope, standard protective measures may not suffice. Fire moves quickly up steep slopes. A larger safety zone may be necessary. Contact your local fire department or state foresters office for additional information.
  • Regularly clean roofs and gutters. Remove all dead limbs, needles, and debris that spread fire.
  • Equip chimneys and stovepipes with a spark arrester that meets the requirements of National Fire Protection Association Standard 211. (Contact your local fire department for exact specifications.) This will reduce the chance of burning cinders escaping through the chimney, starting outdoor fires.
  • Have a fire extinguisher (“A-B-C” rated) and get training from the fire department in how to use it. Different extinguishers operate in different ways. Unless you know how to use your extinguisher, you may not be able to use it effectively. There is no time to read directions during an emergency. (See Appendix: Fire Extinguishers.)
  • Consider installing protective shutters or heavy fire-resistant drapes. The extreme heat created by the fire causes windows to break, permitting burning cinders and superheated air to enter and ignite the interior of the building. The right shutters or drapes can reduce the potential for these cinders to cause your home to burn.
  • Keep a ladder handy that will reach the roof. You may need to get on the roof to remove combustible debris.
  • Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees in your safety zone and on the remainder of your property. Fire-resistant plants are less likely to ignite and spread fire closer to your home. For example, hardwood trees are more fire-resistant than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus, or fir trees.
  • Clear all combustible vegetation and remove wooden lawn furniture to reduce the fuel load. Rake away leaves. Remove leaves, rubbish, dead limbs, and twigs from under structures and dispose of them properly. Have a professional tree service create a 15- foot (5-meter) space between tree crowns, and remove limbs within 6 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) of the ground. This will help reduce the chance of fire spreading from tree to tree or from ground to tree.
  • Remove dead branches from all trees. Dead branches are very combustible.
  • Keep trees adjacent to buildings free of dead or dying wood and moss.
  • Remove tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet (5 meters) of a stovepipe or chimney outlet.
  • If you have horses or livestock, be sure to store hay and other burnable feed away from the building that houses the animals.
  • Keep all tree and shrub limbs trimmed so they do not come in contact with electrical wires. Electrical wires can be easily damaged or knocked loose by swaying branches.
  • Ask the power company to clear branches from power lines. High-voltage power lines can be very dangerous. If a line falls, it can cause injury or start a fire. Only authorized and trained professionals should work around power lines.
  • Remove vines from the walls of your home. Even live vines can spread fire quickly.
  • Mow and water grass regularly. This will help reduce the fuel available for fire.
  • Place propane tanks at least 30 feet (9 meters) from the home or other structures. Propane tanks can explode under certain conditions.
  • Clear a 10-foot (3-meter) area around propane tanks and the barbecue. Place a metal screen over the grill. Use noncombustible screen material with mesh no coarser than one-quarter inch.
  • Regularly dispose of newspapers and rubbish at an approved site. Follow local burning regulations. Regular disposal of combustible/flammable items will reduce the fuel available for fire.
  • Place stove, fireplace, and grill ashes in a metal bucket, soak in water for two days, then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil. Fires can start quickly from hidden cinders or burnt materials that are still hot. Once they are burned, chunks of flammable items can ignite at lower temperatures. Bury ashes to avoid potential fires.
  • Stack firewood at least 30 feet (9 meters) away and uphill from your home. Clear combustible material within 20 feet (6 meters) of the stack. Fire tends to travel uphill, so keep highly combustible firewood and other materials above your home.
  • Use only wood-burning devices that are listed by UL or other certification laboratories.
  • Box eaves to prevent sparks from entering the structure under the roof line.
  • Place metal screens over openings to prevent collection of litter. Cover openings to windows, floors, roof, and attic with screen (not vinyl screen). Use at least quarter-inch screen beneath porches, decks, floors, and the home itself. Eighth- or sixteenth-inch mesh screen is better. Litter, such as leaves, branches, twigs, and loose papers, quickly increases the fuel available for a fire.
  • Avoid open burning completely, especially during the fire season. Ash and cinders can float in the air, and they may be blown into areas with heavy fuel load and start wildland fires.
  • Report hazardous conditions that could cause a wildland fire. Community responders may be able to eliminate or reduce conditions that could cause fire.