“Wildfires”, defined as a large destructive fire that spreads quickly over woodland and brush that are typically uncontrolled and unplanned. Wildfires have escalated greatly in the recent past and have destroyed millions of acres of land and caused millions of dollars in property damage. The southwest states of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico are at great risk states for wildfires because of recent drought conditions and the extreme temperatures they experience.
Humans account for almost 85% of wildfires. Most of these fires are due to carelessness. Some examples are:
- Unattended and/or non-extinguished
- Burning garbage or dead vegetation where it is not
- Carelessly tossed smoking materials.
- Equipment that malfunctions causing sparks, particularly from highway accidents, metal scraping across roadways and sparking.
Natural causes of wildfires, account for approximately 10% of wildfires annually. Examples of natural causes are lightning strikes; meteor strikes and volcanic eruptions.
In recent years attention to fire prevention, has been focused on the Wildland Urban Interphase (WUI), This is the area where wildland abuts developed residential areas, towns, cities, and manmade structures. The increased number and difficulty in controlling wildfire spread has been a source of devastating destruction over the last several years. National, state, and local organizations have turned their attention to the management and prevention of these types of fires mainly by engaging the communities these potential fires could impact.
Firewise is a national program designed to teach residents how to reduce risk areas and adapt their communities to be more “Firewise”. These programs help communities protect themselves from the toll to health, life, and property due to fire in these WUI zones.
The Arizona Interagency Wildfire Prevention website ( https://wildlandfire.az.gov/wildfire-prevention ) also offers excellent guidelines for the prevention of wildfires, as well as suggestions to protect your home if a wildfire approaches your property.
Before a wildfire threatens your area…
In and around your home
- Clear leaves and other debris from gutters, eaves, porches, and decks. This prevents embers from igniting your home.
- Remove dead vegetation and other items from under your deck or porch, and within 10 feet of the house. Learn more about the basics of defensible space on the Firewise website.
- Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.
- Remove flammable materials (firewood stacks, propane tanks) within 30 feet of your home’s foundation and outbuildings, including garages and sheds. If it can catch fire, don’t let it touch your house, deck or porch.
- Wildfire can spread to treetops. Prune trees so the lowest branches are 6 to 10 feet from the ground.
- Keep your lawn hydrated and maintained. If it is brown, cut it down to reduce fire intensity. Dry grass and shrubs are fuel for wildfire.
- Don’t let debris and lawn cuttings linger. Dispose of these items quickly to reduce fuel for fire.
- Inspect shingles or roof tiles. Replace or repair those that are loose or missing to prevent ember penetration. Don’t let debris build up on the Flat Roofs here in the Southwest.
- Cover exterior attic vents with metal wire mesh no larger than 1/8 inch to prevent sparks from entering the home.
- Enclose under-eave and soffit vents or screens with metal mesh to prevent ember entry.
- Learn more about how to protect your home and property at www.firewise.org.
Creating an emergency plan
- Assemble an emergency supply kit and place it in a safe spot. Remember to include important documents, medications, and personal identification.
- Develop an emergency evacuation plan and practice it with everyone in your home.
- Plan two ways out of your neighborhood and designate a meeting place.
- Learn more about emergency preparedness planning on NFPA’s emergency planning webpage.
During the time a wildfire is in your area…
- Stay aware of the latest news and updates from your local media and fire department. Get your family, home and pets prepared to evacuate.
- Place your emergency supply kit and other valuables in your vehicle.
- Move patio or deck furniture, cushions, door mats and potted plants in wooden containers either indoors or as far away from the home, shed and garage as possible.
- Close and protect your home’s openings, including attic and basement doors and vents, windows, garage doors and pet doors to prevent embers from penetrating your home.
- Connect garden hoses and fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs, or other large containers with water. Firefighters have been known to use the hoses to put out fires on rooftops.
- Leave as early as possible, before you’re told to evacuate. Do not linger once evacuation orders have been given. Promptly leaving your home and neighborhood clears roads for firefighters to get equipment in place to fight the fire and helps ensure residents’ safety.