Defensible Space Is Not Enough
Maintain and retrofit your house to reduce its chances of igniting..
To protect your home, you'll want to "harden" it, so that it is less likely to catch fire. Prepare your house to resist flames up to 100 ft long, falling embers and/or radiant heat. Any of these three can ignite your home.
In June 2020 our Council hosted a webinar on Hardening Your Home Against Wildfire. You can view a video of that webinar by clicking here.
Hardening Your Home
(mostly taken from firewisemaderacounty.com)
- Airborne embers or firebrands are the overwhelming cause of home ignitions in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) - which our Oak Hill area is in!
- Flying embers can ignite and destroy homes several miles AHEAD of a wildfire., or else hours or even days AFTER the main fire front has passed.
Believe it or not, around half of the homes lost are ignited inside the house from firebrands penetrating!
No matter how clear the home ignition zone, no matter how much defensible space, no matter how prepared the neighborhood, if your home is tinder, embers can, and will, ignite your home in the event of a wildfire in your area.
You can radically reduce the impact of embers simply by hardening your home against wildfire.
To a fire your home is fuel.
Change your perspective and start looking at your home as fuel for a fire. Where could a fire take hold? Where is your home most vulnerable?
Remember, if you can deny a fire the conditions necessary for combustion, there can be no fire. Combustion requires fuel, oxygen and heat. Remove one, no fire. You can't eliminate oxygen or heat, so look at ways to reduce fuel.
You CAN reduce the chance of your home igniting:
For still more excellent videos: watch these videos, preferably all of them.
Let's get started with assessing your home!
NFPA HOME IGNITION ZONE STRUCTURE ASSESSMENT GUIDE
Note: This assessment is designed to-
- Help determine how vulnerable your house might be during a wildfire
- Recommend actions you can take so that your home will have a better chance to survive a wildfire.
Remember, prevention and/or mitigation measures should be done well in advance of wildfire season.
Step 1: Assess Your Home
OVERVIEW OF SURROUNDINGS
- How is the structure positioned in relationship to areas that could experience severe fire behavior? Do one or more sides face a steep vegetated slope or other high fire risk areas?
- Type of construction- wood frame, stucco, rock foundation etc.?
CHIMNEY TO EAVES
Inspect the roof:
- Non-combustible, Class A roof? Click for Roof Rating Info
- No shingles loose or missing, exposing combustible "deck" or underlayment?
- Shingles flat with no gaps where embers could enter?
- Gutters are non-combustible, and hang on metal flashing (rather than below roof, exposing underlayment?
- No pine needles or leaves on roof, in gutters or in crevices?
Read more under "Roof"
EAVES TO FOUNDATION
Inspect attic, soffit, and foundation vents::
- Openings are screened with no more than 1/8 inch, preferably 1/16 inch, holes? (1/16 inch is the size of standard mosquito screening)
- Screening is made of brass or stainless steel so it won't burn as easily?
Read more under "Eaves and Vents"
Inspect windows and screens:
- Metal screens on windows? This is mostly important if you have vulnerable single-paned windows.
- Strong windows that are less likely to break with heat: either multi-paned, or windows with tempered glass (look for label in corner of glass)?
- No picture windows that face vegetation? If the windows are too close to vegetation, the heat from burning vegetation can break windows, letting embers in. Large windows are especially vulnerable.
Read more under "Windows"
Inspect walls, and wall decorations
- Walls and attachments (like wreaths, artwork, etc.) are non-combustible?
- There are no inside corners where leaves collect? Those are the areas where embers may accumulate as well
- At the very least, make sure the bottom 12 inches of wall are non-combustible in areas where leaves (and, in a fire, embers) accumulate.
Read more under "Siding"
FOUNDATION TO IMMEDIATE LANDSCAPED AREA
- 3-5 feet adjacent to house is clear of vegetation around entire structure?
- No flammable mulch adjacent to house?
Decks, fences, nooks and crannies etc:
- Non-combustible or ignition-resistant materials?
- Not attached to house if flammable?
- No flammable materials next to or under the structure, like wooden brooms, chairs etc.
- Nothing flammable in crawl space?
DEFENSIBLE SPACE OUT TO 100 FT
- Propane tanks, vehicles, RV, gas lawn mowers, etc. are in a closed garage or more than 30 ft from house?
- Adequate defensible space has been created?
Read more about defensible space
Once you’ve assessed your home, take action to harden your home.
Step 2: Take Action
(For more detail, see our "Building Products/ Retrofits to improve Fire Resilience", and "Defensible Space" pages)
- Routinely remove debris from your roof
- Routinely check gutters for debris and remove the debris
- Never stack firewood near your home. Store it at least 30 ft away
- Remove flammables from under decks
- Keep top of decks clear of flammables also
- Use nonflammable patio furniture & cushions if possible - if they are flammable, move them inside during red flag conditions.
- Remove all combustible materials from direct contact with your home- brooms, chairs, etc.
- Consider replacing vents with high tech fire safe ones.
- Replace combustible roofing with non-combustible rated roofing
- Repair broken shingles
- Replace plastic or other combustible gutters with metal gutters that can’t burn
- Enclose and box in your eaves (known as a “soffit”)
- Close all openings that may allow embers to enter your attic and home- Use metal screening with openings no larger than 1/16 inch
- Replace vinyl window screens with metal screens
- Replace older outdated non-reinforced vinyl windows with metal windows or reinforced vinyl ones
- Replace single pane glass with dual pane glass, preferably tempered
- Replace combustible siding with non-combustible siding
- Create 3 to 5 feet of non-combustible ground completely around your home and structures- no vegetation or bark mulch. Stick to gravel, rock, bare soil etc.
- Create defensible space out to 100 feet (200 feet on hills).
Download the guides below for checklists and info. Print them out and follow the instructions.
And for more information: Preparing your Home for Wildfire,,
Or try this excellent detailed article about hardening your home from UC Davis.
Still another good site: Marin Fire Safe Council . Hardening Your Home
Remember, You Are The One Responsible For Reducing Your Risk
The best one able to radically increase the odds of saving your home in the event of wildfire is you.. We cannot stress this enough. Personal responsibility is key. It is not only your responsibility to yourself and your family, but to your neighbors and the general public.
Defensible space is highly desirable for the safety of firefighters, but if you really want to save your home, harden your home against wildfire, extremely if possible. Even without fire personnel present, a properly hardened home may survive a wildfire. The other benefits such as potentially reduced loan rates and lower insurance costs are the icing on the cake.
Even your home interior should be considered. Embers can penetrate through faulty vents, melted vinyl screens with open or broken, insufficient windows, igniting your home from the inside. Radiant heat can cause flammables like curtains at windows to ignite.
The fewer possessions and building materials that can become fuel for a fire the better. Be aware of fire regarding your home interior when considering improvements or remodeling. Look over your home interior for glaring fire hazards. Make sure you have an up to date, charged and appropriate fire extinguisher or several extinguishers within easy reach where needed.