Conservation Conversations: Improving your home ignition zone
While winter may not be the time of year to do much outdoor home care and maintenance, it is the time of year to start planning for spring and summer.
When the East Troublesome Fire swept through northern Grand County in October 2020, it was a wake-up call for many of us. Nearly every corner of Grand County is included in the wildland-urban interface, and we are not immune to devastating wildfires. Though the East Troublesome Fire was an anomaly in its extreme behavior and rate of spread, studies show that as many as 80% of homes lost to wildland fires could have been saved if their owners had followed simple fire-safe practices.
Reducing your home’s wildfire risk starts by looking at your home ignition zone, which is the area around the home or structure that considers the potential of the structure to ignite and the quality of defensible space surrounding it. Whether you’ve been in your home for decades or you are planning a new build, it is never too late to take steps toward improving your home ignition zone.
On an existing home, one might consider engaging in several low-cost “home-hardening” retrofit projects recommended by CalFire, including:
- Block any spaces between your roof covering and sheathing (bird stops).
- Install a noncombustible gutter cover on gutters to prevent the accumulation of leaves, needles and debris in the gutter.
- Cover your wood and pellet stove chimneys and stovepipe outlets with a noncombustible corrosion resistant metal mesh screen (spark arrestor), with 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch openings.
- Keep the flue on your chimney closed when a fireplace is not in use to further reduce the chance of firebrands entering the structure
- Cover all vent openings with 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch noncombustible corrosion-resistant metal mesh screens.
- Caulk and plug gaps greater than 1/8-inch around exposed rafters and blocking to prevent ember intrusion into the attic or other enclosed spaces.
- Inspect exterior siding for dry rot, gaps, cracks and warping. Caulk or plug gaps greater than 1/8-inch in siding and replace any damaged boards, including those with dry rot.
- Install weather-stripping to gaps greater than 1/8-inch between garage doors and door frames to prevent ember intrusion. The weather-stripping should be compliant with UL Standard 10C.
- Cover openings to operable skylights with noncombustible mesh screen with openings in the screen not to exceed 1/8-inch.
- Install a minimum 6-inch metal flashing, applied vertically on the exterior of the wall at the deck-to-wall intersection to protect the combustible siding material.
- Regularly clean your roof, gutters, decks, and the base of walls to avoid the accumulation of fallen leaves, needles and other flammable materials.
- Ensure that all combustible materials are removed from underneath, on top of, or within five feet of a deck.
- Remove vegetation or other combustible materials that are within five feet of windows and glass doors.
- Replace wood mulch products within five feet of all structures with noncombustible products such as dirt, stone or gravel.
- Remove all dead or dying grass, plants, shrubs, trees, branches, leaves, weeds and pine needles within 30 feet of all structures or to the property line.
- When it’s time to replace your windows, replace them with multipaned windows that have at least one pane of tempered glass.
- When it is time to replace your roof, replace it with Class A fire rated roof material.
- When it’s time to replace your siding or deck, use compliant noncombustible, ignition-resistant materials.
On a new build or remodel project, it is best to begin your fire-adapted quest from the very beginning by looking at your building materials. The exterior elements of your home (roof, siding, chimney, eaves, vents, windows, basements and decks) are your first line of defense against wildfire. In addition to the suggestions above, you might consider using these fire-resistant construction materials recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency:
- Use roofing materials labeled Class A, which are the most fire-resistant.
- Avoid wood roofing shingles, no matter what their rating or their type of fire-resistant treatment.
- Avoid chemically treated materials or coatings, which often lose their effectiveness over time and leave the roof vulnerable to fire.
- Use cement, plaster, stucco or concrete masonry (such as stone, brick or concrete block) as siding.
- Avoid the use of vinyl materials. Although vinyl will not burn, they will melt or fall away in relatively low temperatures, providing the fire with a direct path inside the structure.
If you would like a fire professional to help you assess your home ignition zone and provide suggestions for improvement, contact your local fire district or the Grand County Wildfire Council.
For more information on a variety of natural resources and rural living topics, check out Middle Park Conservation District’s High Country Rural Living & Land Management guide at MiddleParkcd.com/ultimate-landowner-guide.
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