HOME SAFE HOME: Now is the time to prepare your property for wildfire

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Morgan Krieg illustration for the Hungry Horse News.

At a recent talk to media folks, a fire manager recalled a story of a squirrel nest in a tree at a home. A wildfire was bearing down the residence, which had done several measures to protect it from wildfire.

But they had built their deck around a large conifer tree and up in the tree was a squirrel’s nest. The tree caught on fire, the burning nest fell on the deck, and the house burned to the ground.

That type is scenario might sound a bit bizarre, but is just one illustration of how a home can succumb to the ills of wildfire.

State, federal and local wildfire managers say that now is the time to make your house more resistant to wildfires, not when a fire is bearing down on your property.

Fire managers break a property down into zones, with zone 1 being the house itself and five feet around the home, zone 2 being 5 to 100 feet around the home and zone 3 outside of 100 feet from the home.

Here’s some tips from the Montana State Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the Flathead County Office of Emergency Services and the National Fire Prevention Association.

Keep in mind that most of the work is inexpensive and can be done in a few days.

Zone 1

• No. 1, make sure your home has its address posted on the home itself and the driveway so first responders can find your property. It should be reflective material so it can be seen in the dark, in smoke, or in a snowstorm.

• Fill in small cracks with caulk; these are places where an ember could get into the house.

• If you have decks, check for large cracks or decayed material. Don’t store combustible items like wood under a deck. Clean leaves and other debris out from under a deck.

• 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. Asphalt shingles should have a metal drip edge., Embers can get under the edge and cause a fire.

• 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. Note: If you are evacuated, close all the windows before you leave,

• 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.

• In the first five feet, put non-combustible surfaces, like rock, pavers, or gravel. Mulch close to the home can catch on fire. Plant deciduous plants instead of evergreens, as they have a higher moisture content. Make sure bushes are trimmed.

Zone 2 (5 to 100 feet)

• Make sure trees are limbed up 6 to 8 feet from the ground and the grass is frequently irrigated.

• Keep your lawn clean and green.

• Try to have a buffer of 30 feet to 100 feet of lawn near the house. Keep the grass cut to at least 8 to 12 inches and clean debris out from under trees.

• Isolated or small groups of bushes and trees should be 30 feet from the house.

• Don’t forget the driveway. This is your escape route. Trees should also be limbed and grass kept shorter.

• Propane tanks should be kept 30 feet from the home and on a rock or non-combustible pad.

• Keep firewood stored 30 feet from any structure. Don’t stack the wood between trees or next to the house.

Zone 3 (100 feet or more)

•Consider thinning the forest and create a mix of grass, trees and shrubs. The idea is to reduce “ladder fuels” that will allow a wildfire to burn up into the canopy of the surrounding forest. In this zone, a ground fire, if it happens, is preferable, since it is easier to fight and doesn’t throw as many embers. Consult with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. They can help with forest management ideas.

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