Do you know how to properly prepare and defend yourself, family and home from a wildfire?
Every year wildfires burn thousands of homes leaving homeowners devastated and wondering where and how to start rebuilding their lives. Often times, wildfires begin unnoticed. They spread quickly, leaving little time to pack and evacuate.
Furthermore, wildfire threats to lives and property increase as more people build homes, operate business and recreate in areas where wildlands border more urban areas. Over the past few decades, more people are moving into an area referred to as the Wildland
Urban Interface (WUI). The WUI's are where man-made improvements, such as homes, are built close to, or within, natural terrain and flammable vegetation with high potential for wildland fire. While residents in these areas enjoy the beauty of the environment around them, they also face the very real danger of wildfires.
In addition to the growth of people migrating to the WUI, frequent severe drought, record heat and insect infestations have contributed to higher fire danger in Colorado. Are you at risk? Check the Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal. Despite the risk, everyone can take steps to prepare for wildfires. Explore the information below to learn more about what you can do.
- Before a Wildfire
- Build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
- Know more than one exit route in case you have to evacuate.
- Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees.
- Remove leaves and other debris from the roof and gutters.
- Inspect chimneys at least twice a year and clean them at least once a year.
- Use 1/8-inch mesh screen beneath porches, decks, floor areas, and the home itself to help keep embers out.
- Install a dual-sensor smoke alarm on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms. Be sure to test the alarms monthly and change the batteries at least once each year.
- Teach each family member how to use a fire extinguisher and show them where it's located.
- Keep a ladder that will reach the roof.
- Consider installing protective shutters or heavy fire-resistant drapes.
- Clear items that will burn from around the house, including wood piles, wooden lawn furniture, barbecue grills, tarp coverings, etc. Move them outside of your defensible space.
Preparing a Safety Zone for Your Home
Create a 30 to 100 foot safety zone around your home. Within this area, you can take steps to reduce potential exposure to flames and radiant heat. Homes built in pine forests should have a minimum safety zone of 100 feet. If your home sits on a steep slope, standard protective measures may not be enough – contact your local fire department or forestry office for specific information.
Within the zone, you will want to take the following steps:
- Rake and remove leaves, dead limbs and twigs – clear all flammable vegetation.
- Remove leaves and rubbish from under structures.
- Thin a 15-foot space between tree tops and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground.
- Remove dead branches that extend over the roof.
- Prune tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet.
- Ask the power company to clear branches from power lines.
- Remove vines from the walls of the home.
- Mow grass regularly.
- Clear a 10-foot area around propane tanks and the barbecue. Place a screen over the grill – use nonflammable material with mesh no coarser than one-quarter inch.
- Regularly dispose of newspapers and rubbish at an approved site. Follow local burning regulations.
- Place stove, fireplace and grill ashes in a metal bucket, soak in water for 2 days, then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil.
- Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans. Place cans in a safe location away from the base of buildings.
- Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home. Clear combustible material within 20 feet of the wood pile.
- Review your homeowner's insurance policy and also prepare/update an inventory of your home's contents.
- During a Wildfire
- Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
- If you haven't received an evacuation notice, but your instincts are telling you that you should evacuate, do so immediately.
- Listen to local radio and television stations for updated emergency information.
- Always back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape.
- Confine pets to one room so that you can find them if you need to evacuate quickly.
- Arrange temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area in case you need to evacuate.
- Wear protective clothing when outside – sturdy shoes, cotton or wool clothes, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a handkerchief to protect your face.
- Place valuable papers, mementos and anything "you can't live without" inside the car, ready for quick departure. Any pets still with you should also be put in the car.
- Close outside attic, eaves and basement vents, windows, doors, pet doors, etc. Remove flammable drapes and curtains. Close all shutters, blinds or heavy non-combustible window coverings to reduce radiant heat.
- Close all doors inside the house to prevent draft. Open the damper on your fireplace, but close the fireplace screen.
- Shut off any natural gas, propane or fuel oil supplies at the source.
- Connect garden hoses to an outdoor water faucet and fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs or other large containers with water.
- Place valuables that will not be damaged by water in a pool or pond.
- Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near above-ground fuel tanks. Leave sprinklers on wetting these structures as long as possible.
- If you have gas-powered pumps for water, make sure they are fueled and ready.
- Disconnect any automatic garage door openers so that doors can still be opened by hand if the power goes out, but keep the door closed.
- Move flammable furniture into the center of the residence away from the windows and sliding-glass doors.
Immediate Evacuation Required
- If advised to evacuate, do so immediately. Take your emergency kit, lock your home and choose a route away from the fire hazard. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of the fire and smoke. Inform someone of when you left and where you are going.
- If you see a wildfire and haven't received evacuation orders yet, call 9-1-1. Don't assume that someone else has already called. Describe the location of the fire, speak slowly and clearly, and answer any questions asked by the dispatcher.
- Go to a designated public shelter if you have been told to evacuate or you feel it is unsafe to remain in your home. Check COEmergency.com for shelter information or go to your local emergency management website.
- If you are with burn victims, or are a burn victim yourself, call 9-1-1 or seek help immediately; cool and cover burns to reduce chance of further injury or infection.
- After a Wildfire
- Do not return to your home until fire officials say it is safe to do so.
- Use caution when entering burned areas as hazards may still exist, including hot spots, which can flare up without warning.
- For several hours after the fire, maintain a "fire watch." Re-check for smoke and sparks throughout the house, including the attic.
- If you detect heat or smoke when entering a damaged building, evacuate immediately.
- Avoid damaged or fallen power lines, poles and downed wires.
- Watch for ash pits and mark them for safety – warn family and neighbors to keep clear of the pits also.
- Watch animals closely and keep them under your direct control. Hidden embers and hot spots could burn your pets’ paws or hooves.
- Remain calm, pace yourself and listen carefully to what people are telling you, and deal with urgent situations first.
- Contact your insurance company if there is any damage.
- More Wildfire Information
References, Resources and More Information:
- Ready.gov - Wildfires
- Ready, Set, Go!
- Surviving Wildfire
- Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal
- Colorado State Forest Service
- National Interagency Fire Center
- U.S. Fire Administration
- US Forest Service
- National Fire Protection Association
- Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association
- Fire Adapted Communities
- Red Cross - Wildfire Preparedness
- Wildfire: It Happened Here
The Black Forest fire started on June 11, 2013 and would continue to burn until June 21, ultimately growing to 14,280 acres. Two deaths were confirmed on June 13, 2013. The Black Forest fire was the single most destructive fire in Colorado History in terms of properties lost. Estimated insured losses totaled $292.8 million resulting from approximately 3,630 homeowner and auto insurance claims filed so far. El Paso County reports 486 structures burned in the blaze.This was the second time in less than a year that a fire in El Paso County set such a record, the first being the Waldo Canyon fire.
Cover photo courtesy of Douglas County. Other photos courtesy of FEMA/Andrea Booher and Colorado National Guard.