Fire mitigation for the home: A how-to

The Rifle Range Fire from 2015 burned up the Parshall Divide area and threatened the town of Hot Sulphur Springs. One evacuation notice was issued during the fire though no structures were damaged.
Art Ferrari / For Sky-Hi News |

If a wildfire is running through Grand County are you prepared? Is your home properly mitigated to withstand a major conflagration?

These are just a few of the questions local fire districts are asking as wildfire season gets fully underway in the high country. They stress the need for homeowners to prepare for a worst-case scenario. If a major wildland fire outbreak occurs in Grand County this summer, first responders will be focused on saving lives and property, but with a little help from the public, firefighters can spend less time working to save homes and more time battling potential blazes.

The Grand County Wildfire Council has tips and suggestions citizens can employ to keep the threat to structures to an absolute minimum.

“How is a wildfire going to burn my house down?” Asked Grand Fire Protection District Assistant Chief Schelly Olson. “I need to find ways to stop the fire from reaching my house. It cannot start burning if the conditions aren’t right for ignition.”

Olson outlined three specific ways residences, and structures in general, are ignited: continuous fuel sources, ember ignitions, and radiant heat. A continuous fuel source refers to the presence of grasses, shrubs, trees and other easily ignited fuel sources extending from the forest edge right up to the base of homes and structure. “Grass will carry a surface fire right up to a house and potentially burn it down,” Olson said.

The most effective way to counter the danger posed by continuous fuels is to insure that are defined firebreaks between the forest edge and the immediately exterior of your home. Try to create an area without any combustible materials immediately adjacent your residence, concrete walkways and mulch with pebbles or stones is an effective option.

Embers are a serious source of concern for firefighters in terms of mitigation efforts. A single ember, or piece of flaming material, can be carried on the wind up to one and a half miles from the edge of a fire. Embers are often very small and as such they can penetrate into nooks and crannies on homes that are easily overlooked when homeowners look to mitigate their property.

Mitigating the dangers posed by embers is an especially difficult task. Homeowners will need to focus on small details to protect against embers and ensure their residence is completely closed off. As Olson explained, embers often destroy homes through weak links that have been overlooked.

Finally radiant heat can cause a house to ignite and burn down even in the absence of directly connected fuel sources. Basically speaking, if a fire gets hot enough and burns close enough to your home long enough radiant heat ignitions are a potential reality.

Addressing the dangers of radiant heat is about creating adequate distance between your home and combustible items and making sure the construction materials used on your home, such as roofing materials, are not easily ignited.

To protect against the dangers of wildfires the wildfire council suggests mitigating fire dangers through an organized process breaking down the danger areas into multiple zones, each to be addressed separately. The initial zone, called home Home Zone, is zero to five feet out. In this region homeowners should focus on removing all combustible materials including loose leaves and pine needles, establishing a noncombustible perimeter around the home, and keeping the area irrigated so any plants maintain high moisture content.

Zone 1, from zero to 30 feet, represents the final line of defense for a home. All dead and dying trees should be removed and make sure to remove woodpiles or firewood stacks outside the zone. Zone 2 extends from 30 feet to 100 feet. In this zone fire officials recommend removing pine needle litter, dead or dying trees, ladder fuels, and trimming low-level vegetation along with mowing grass.

The final zone, Zone 3, extends from 100 feet out to 200 feet. In this region homeowners will want to maintain spacing between the trees on their property, keep a minimum of 10 feet between the tops, remove additional dead or dying flora and focus on the ladder fuels that can bring a fire from the ground up to the crowns of the trees.

You never know when an errant lighting strike or careless camper will ignite the next great blaze in Grand County, but if you follow the mitigation suggestions provided by our local fire officials you, and your home, are more likely to survive the blaze unscathed.

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