As many as 88,000 people have been forced from their homes this week in the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, which has been all but completely destroyed by a massive, fast-moving wildfire. As of Friday, the fire had burned more than 300 square miles and destroyed more than 1,600 homes in an area that’s larger in size than New York City.
Given that we live and work in an equally wildfire-prone state here in Colorado, this seems like a good time to review some commonsense ways that homeowners in fire country can protect their homes from damage in the event of a wildfire.
And wildfires in Colorado aren’t limited to the high country. Not only did the 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire bring significant damage to the outskirts of Boulder, the Black Forest Fire in 2013 destroyed more than 500 homes on the northeast side of Colorado Springs to become the most destructive wildfire in state history.
According to the United States Forest Service, there are more than 75,000 reported wildfires in the U.S. every year and these fires burn an average of more than 7,000,000 acres and 2,500 buildings annually. Every state is at risk.
So, given that wildfires are a threat all over Colorado, what steps should homeowners take to protect their property? Here are some suggestions:
Know Your Risk
The Colorado State Forest Service maintains a public information portal at https://www.coloradowildfirerisk.com that allows homeowners to quickly and easily determine the level of fire risk in their immediate area at any given time. In wildfire country, awareness is key, and this tool offers an easy way for residents to stay informed throughout the year.
Ensure Access to Water
Ideally, if you have access to a pond or other water source on your property, that can be part of your defensible space and help fight a wildfire at the same time. But if not, you do need to have ready access to an outdoor water source so you can soak your roof and walls, as well as nearby shrubs and trees, in the event that a fire is heading your way. Most fire-prevention experts also recommend that homeowners be prepared to fill garbage cans and other larges containers with water to help fight a fire.
Maintain Your Defensible Space
In the event of a wildfire, the area surrounding a building is often all that stands between the structure and a fire. With proper mitigation, this space can act as a buffer that protects the home from damage.
Homeowners should avoid the use of combustible bark and wood chip landscaping materials, keep grass cut short and well watered, and remove all dry grass, brush, trees and dead leaves within at least a 100-foot radius of the home. Firewood and other fuel sources should be stored at least 30 feet downhill from any structure.
Ideally, a carefully maintained defensible space will not contain combustible fuel and will offer space for firefighters to park and work during an incident.
Maintain Your Structure
You want to make it as difficult as possible for a fire and its embers to find their way into your home. With this in mind, it’s important to not only maintain windows and doors, but also to keep attic, eave and subfloor vents covered with noncombustible screens and seal any open edges along the roof. Fire-resistant siding is another smart purchase when building in wildfire country.