The threat of wildland fires for people living near wildland
areas or using recreational facilities in wilderness areas is
real. Dry conditions at various times of the year and in
various parts of the United States greatly increase the
potential for wildland fires.
Advance planning and knowing how to protect buildings in
these areas can lessen the devastation of a wildland
fire. There are several safety precautions that you can
take to reduce the risk of fire losses. Protecting your home
from wildfire is your responsibility. To reduce the risk,
you'll need to consider the fire resistance of your home, the
topography of your property and the nature of the vegetation
Prepare for a
Listed here are several suggestions that you can implement
immediately. Others need to be considered at the time of
construction or remodeling. You should also contact your local
fire department, forestry office, emergency management office
or building department for information about local fire laws,
building codes and protection measures. Obtain local building
codes and weed abatement ordinances for structures built near
Find Out What Your Fire Risk Is
- Learn about the history of wildfire in your area.
- Be aware of recent weather.
- A long period without rain increases the risk of
- Consider having a professional inspect your property
and offer recommendations for reducing the wildfire
- Determine your community's ability to respond to
- Are roads leading to your property clearly marked?
- Are the roads wide enough to allow firefighting
equipment to get through?
- Is your house number visible from the roadside?
Learn and teach safe fire practices.
- Build fires away from nearby trees or bushes.
- Always have a way to extinguish the fire quickly and
- Install smoke detectors on every level of your home and
near sleeping areas.
Never leave a fire--even a cigarette--burning
- Avoid open burning completely, and especially during
- Always be ready for an emergency evacuation.
Evacuation may be the only way to protect your family in a
wildfire. Know where to go and what to bring with you. You
should plan several escape routes in case roads are blocked by
Create Safety Zones Around Your Home
All vegetation is fuel for a wildfire, though some trees and
shrubs are more flammable than others. To reduce the risk, you
will need to modify or eliminate brush, trees and other
vegetation near your home. The greater the distance is between
your home and the vegetation, the greater the protection.
Create a 30-foot safety zone around the house.
Keep the volume of vegetation in this zone to a minimum. If you
live on a hill, extend the zone on the downhill side. Fire
spreads rapidly uphill. The steeper the slope, the more open
space you will need to protect your home. Swimming pools and
patios can be a safety zone and stone walls can act as heat
shields and deflect flames. In this zone, you should also
do the following:
- Remove vines from the walls of the house.
Move shrubs and other landscaping away from the sides of
- Prune branches and shrubs within 15 feet of chimneys
and stove pipes.
Remove tree limbs within 15 feet of the ground.
- Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns.
Replace highly flammable vegetation such as pine,
eucalyptus, junipers and fir trees with lower growing, less
flammable species. Check with your local fire department or
garden store for suggestions.
- Replace vegetation that has living or dead branches
from the ground-level up (these act as ladder fuels for the
- Cut the lawn often keeping the grass at a maximum of 2
inches. Watch grass and other vegetation near the driveway,
a source of ignition from automobile exhaust systems.
- Clear the area of leaves, brush, evergreen cones, dead
limbs and fallen trees.
Create a second zone at least 100 feet around the house.
This zone should begin about 30 feet from the house and extend
to at least 100 feet. In this zone, reduce or replace as much
of the most flammable vegetation as possible. If you live on a
hill, you may need to extend the zone for several hundred feet
to provide the desired level of safety.
Clear all combustibles within 30 feet of any structure.
- Install electrical lines underground, if possible
- Ask the power company to clear branches from power
- Avoid using bark and wood chip mulch
Stack firewood 100 feet away and uphill from any
- Store combustible or flammable materials in approved
safety containers and keep them away from the house.
- Keep the gas grill and propane tank at least 15 feet
from any structure. Clear an area 15 feet around the grill.
Place a 1/4 inch mesh screen over the grill. Always use the
grill cautiously but refrain from using it all during high
Protect Your Home
Remove debris from under sun decks and porches. Any porch,
balcony or overhang with exposed space underneath is fuel for
an approaching fire. Overhangs ignite easily by flying embers
and by the heat and fire that get trapped underneath. If
vegetation is allowed to grow underneath or if the space is
used for storage, the hazard is increased significantly. Clear
leaves, trash and other combustible materials away from
underneath sun decks and porches. Extend 1/2-inch mesh screen
from all overhangs down to the ground. Enclose wooden stilts
with non-combustible material such as concrete, brick, rock,
stucco or metal. Use non-combustible patio furniture and
covers. If you're planning a porch or sun deck, use
non-combustible or fire-resistant materials. If possible, build
the structure to the ground so that there is no space
Enclose eaves and overhangs. Like porches and balconies,
eaves trap the heat rising along the exterior siding. Enclose
all eaves to reduce the hazard.
Cover house vents with wire mesh. Any attic vent, soffit
vent, louver or other opening can allow embers and flaming
debris to enter a home and ignite it. Cover all openings with
1/4 inch or smaller corrosion-resistant wire mesh. If you're
designing louvers, place them in the vertical wall rather than
the soffit of the overhang.
Install spark arrestors in chimneys and stovepipes. Chimneys
create a hazard when embers escape through the top. To prevent
this, install spark arrestors on all chimneys, stovepipes and
vents for fuel-burning heaters. Use spark arrestors made of
12-gauge welded or woven wire mesh screen with openings 1/2
inch across. Ask your fire department for exact specifications.
If you're building a chimney, use non-combustible materials and
make sure the top of the chimney is at least two feet higher
than any obstruction within 10 feet of the chimney. Keep the
Use fire resistant siding. Use fire resistant materials in
the siding of your home, such as stucco, metal, brick, cement
shingles, concrete and rock. You can treat wood siding with
UL-approved fire retardant chemicals, but the treatment and
protection are not permanent.
Choose safety glass for windows and sliding glass doors.
Windows allow radiated heat to pass through and ignite
combustible materials inside. The larger the pane of glass, the
more vulnerable it is to fire. Dual- or triple-pane thermal
glass, and fire resistant shutters or drapes, help reduce the
wildfire risk. You can also install non-combustible awnings to
shield windows and use shatter-resistant glazing such as
tempered or wireglass.
Prepare for water storage; develop an external water supply
such as a small pond, well or pool.
Other safety measures to consider at the time of
construction or remodeling.
- Choose locations wisely; canyon and slope locations
increase the risk of exposure to wildland fires.
- Use fire-resistant materials when building, renovating,
or retrofitting structures.
Avoid designs that include wooden decks and patios.
- Use non-combustible materials for the roof.
- The roof is especially vulnerable in a wildfire. Embers
and flaming debris can travel great distances, land on your
roof and start a new fire. Avoid flammable roofing
materials such as wood, shake and shingle. Materials that
are more fire resistant include single ply membranes,
fiberglass shingles, slate, metal, clay and concrete tile.
Clear gutters of leaves and debris.
What to do During a
Survival in a Vehicle
- This is dangerous and should only be done in an
emergency, but you can survive the firestorm if you stay in
your car. It is much less dangerous than trying to run from
a fire on foot.
- Roll up windows and close air vents. Drive slowly with
headlights on. Watch for other vehicles and pedestrians. Do
not drive through heavy smoke.
- If you have to stop, park away from the heaviest trees
and brush. Turn headlights on and ignition off. Roll up
windows and close air vents.
- Get on the floor and cover up with a blanket or
- Stay in the vehicle until the main fire passes.
- Stay in the car. Do not run! Engine may stall and not
restart. Air currents may rock the car. Some smoke and
sparks may enter the vehicle. Temperature inside will
increase. Metal gas tanks and containers rarely
If You Are Trapped at Home
Stay calm. As the fire front approaches, go inside the
house. You can survive inside. The fire will pass before your
house burns down.
If Caught in the Open
- The best temporary shelter is in a sparse fuel area. On
a steep mountainside, the back side is safer. Avoid
canyons, natural "chimneys" and saddles.
- If a road is nearby, lie face down along the road cut
or in the ditch on the uphill side. Cover yourself with
anything that will shield you from the fire's heat.
- If hiking in the back country, seek a depression with
sparse fuel. Clear fuel away from the area while the fire
is approaching and then lie face down in the depression and
cover yourself. Stay down until after the fire passes!
What to do After a
- Check the roof immediately. Put out any roof fires,
sparks or embers. Check the attic for hidden burning
- If you have a fire, get your neighbors to help fight
- The water you put into your pool or hot tub and other
containers wilt come in handy now. If the power is out, try
connecting a hose to the outlet on your water heater.
- For several hours after the fire, maintain a "fire
watch." Re-check for smoke and sparks throughout the
Much of the info on this page was taken from FEMA's web site
which can be referenced at: