The scorching summer has brought devastation to parts of Maui and unleashed record-breaking Canadian wildfires, with the American West yet to face its fire season. Wildfires are now fiercer, longer-lasting, and more destructive. While evacuating remains the safest choice for personal safety, there are property defense principles that can enhance the chances of preserving your home.
A significant number of buildings succumb to wildfires due to minor burns. By bolstering the resistance of the area surrounding your home to ignition, you can reduce vulnerability to spot fires and ember storms. The key lies in establishing a defensible space within the "Home Ignition Zone."
The Home Ignition Zone (HIZ) concept, developed by the Forest Service in the 1990s, encompasses an area within 100-200 feet from the foundation, including the home, vegetation, and other structures or items. Implementing fire-resistant measures, although challenging at times, significantly reduces the risk of fire damage.
Typically, Home Ignition Zones are divided into three parts:
The Immediate Subzone: This zone covers the home and its immediate 5-foot surroundings, where the risk of combustion is highest. Employ protective measures within the construction of the home itself, such as screening areas under patios and decks, clearing roofs and gutters of debris, and using 1/8-inch metal mesh screening for eave vents.
The Intermediate Subzone: Spanning from 5 to 30 feet from your home, this area allows for strategic landscaping to hinder fire spread. Use non-flammable materials for driveways, paths, decks, and patios. Maintain lawns and ground cover below four inches and eliminate ladder fuels under trees. Prune trees and shrubs to reduce fuel continuity, and pay attention to vegetation near propane tanks.
The Extended Subzone: Extending from 30 to 100 feet from the home, this zone focuses on spacing and pruning to keep fire close to the ground and obstruct its path. Remove dead plant and tree debris, saplings between mature trees, and vegetation near outbuildings. Ensure adequate spacing between tree canopies based on their distance from the residence.
It's essential to adapt these strategies to your specific location, vegetation types, and other factors. Consult with local U.S. Forest Service officials for personalized guidance. For more information, visit the National Fire Protection Association (nfpa.org).
In conclusion: Strengthen your home against wildfires, but prioritize safety; evacuate promptly if a wildfire approaches.
Joe Alton MD