Wildfire Community Preparedness Day is May 1, 2021. On this Prep Day, you have the power to protect the part of the community that means the most to you and your family by eliminating vulnerabilities in your own yards!
According to FEMA and the US Fire Association, “more than 46 million residences in 70,000 communities in the United States are at risk for WUI fires. And, the WUI area continues to grow by approximately 2 million acres per year.” In our area, we may have brush fires, grass fires, forest fires or even outdoor fires. These fires can have the same impact as a large wildfire when they occur close to our homes, neighborhoods and communities.
What is WUI? WUI, or Wildland Urban Interface, is the area or zone where our natural environment meets up to our developed areas. As you look around our area here in the Spokane Valley Fire Department’s district, we have several WUI areas. In fact, the Washington State Enhanced Hazard Mitigation Plan (WA SEHMP) has rated our state at a high-risk index, with Spokane County receiving a medium-high rating. They also rated the top 25 places in Washington most likely to be exposed to wildland fire; and the Spokane area ranks within the top five places, receiving the rank of fourth most likely area to be exposed to wildland fires!
Research into wildfires has identified that embers and small flames are the main way that the most homes ignite in wildfires. Embers are burning pieces of airborne vegetation or construction material/wood that can be carried great distances, even more than a mile, through the wind which can cause spot fires and ignite homes. Burning embers can land on or near your house or under your deck. They can ignite vegetation or other combustible materials/debris that could then threaten your house.
WA Department of Natural Resources (WA DNR) indicates that “as many as 80 percent of homes lost to wildland fire may have been saved if brush around the homes were cleared and defensible space created around structures.” During this Prep Day, and throughout the year, you have the opportunity to take steps to clear areas around your home and create a defensible space. Pick one step to act on this week and get one step closer to building the defensible space around your home!
Immediate Zone – Zone 1 (0’ – 5’ around your house)
When looking to take steps to make your house more fire safe, science tells us that this is the most important zone to start with. This zone is the most vulnerable to embers. According to the National Fire Protection Association and their Firewise USA® program, here are some steps to take:
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 – Zone 2 (5’ – 30’ around your house)
This is the zone where your landscaping choices make a difference. Depending on how you choose to landscape, you can create fire breaks that can help influence and decrease a fire’s behavior. Get more tips by visiting the National Fire Protection Association and their Firewise USA® program.
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.
Tree 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.
Extended Zone – Zone 3 (30’ – 100’ around your house)
This last zone which is furthest from your house is where you focus your landscaping efforts on interrupting a fire’s path, and potentially redirecting it away from your house. The National Fire Protection Association and their Firewise USA® program lists the following tips that can help keep fire flames small and on the ground:
Dispose of heavy accumulations of ground litter/debris.
Remove dead plant and tree material.
Remove small conifers growing between mature trees.
Remove vegetation adjacent to storage sheds or other outbuildings within this area.
Trees 30 to 60 feet from the home should have at least 12 feet between canopy tops.
Trees 60 to 100 feet from the home should have at least 6 feet between the canopy tops.
Ensure your home and neighborhood have legible and clearly marked street names and numbers.
Remember that burning of your yard and/or construction debris is prohibited within the Fire District! This includes leaves, needles, small tree and shrub prunings, and other natural yard and garden waste. Visit the Spokane Clean Air Agency’s website to learn about ways you can dispose of your yard debris. Some disposal options include:
Backyard fires that get out-of-control set off most of the wildfires caused by people. You can be held responsible for the cost of putting out your out-of-control fire and any property damage it caused, which can be very costly.
If you have questions about how to create a defensible space around your home, contact us at (509) 928-1700.