This was just emailed from my frind Steph Marr, member of the Bonny Doon Volunteer Fire Department and genuine American Hero.
A friend asked me how to go about preparing their house/grounds for wildland
fires. I'm going to post my reply to wider audience since the info might be
useful to anyone living in a rural environment (the "Wildland/Urban
Interface Zone" to use the official terminology).
This is my own personal advice about how to prep your place, and it's only
that - advice. Official information will be posted by Bonny Doon Fire at
their website www.bonnydoonfire.org in the near future. I'm offering this
info only to be helpful, so don't sue me if things go wrong. Use it or toss
it as you see fit.
First and foremost - clear up any "ladder fuels" -- that's any bushes and
lower tree limbs that could allow a ground fire to climb into the tree
canopy ("the crown"). You should try to make sure that a fire can't ladder
its way up into the crown of the trees for at least 100 feet around your
house. Remember that heat travels upward even where there isn't visible
flames, so think about how tall the flames from a shrub might get, and clear
branches to about twice that height, or lower the height of the shrubs to a
more manageable level.
Second, irrigate any vegetation near the house (generally out to about 30
feet from any structures). If you can't provide the water to irrigate
everything within 30 feet of the house, seriously consider how to minimize
the vegetation close the the structure. If you can't water it, think about
If you've got a locked gate leading to your property, make sure we know how
to open that gate -- tell us the code, or accept that we'll destroy it or
write off your house. We have to move fast, and we don't have time to mess
HAVE A WATER SUPPLY. We don't have those fancy city-folk things called
"fire hydrants" out in the woods, so you'll help your own cause a lot (and
your neighbor's) if there's a solid supply of water nearby. There would
have been no way for us to defend the Powell's house, right at the origin of
the fire, if there wasn't a pool next door. That pool gave us about 20,000
gallons of water to work with (even that only lasted for a few hours) --
without it, we would have been forced to let the fire overrun all of the
homes below Moon Rocks.
If you don't have a pool, get a tank (keep -at least- 5,000 gallons around
just for us to use if/when we need it). In either case, make sure there's a
standpipe close to the road/driveway with a 2.5 inch (or 4-inch, if there's
a LOT of water) National Hose Thread ("NH" - fire service standard) male
coupling on it (see SV Sprinkler and Pipe for specifics). Keep it capped so
critters and crap don't get in the pipe, and flush the rust/crap out every
couple of months. The connection should be about 3 feet above the ground,
clearly marked, with no brush right around it.
Standard fire-line is defined as "bare mineral soil, twice as wide as the
[anticipated] flame lengths." With trees and such, it's hard to get a solid
fire-line around the house, but prepping the rudiments of a line, and
planning which trees to drop (and which way to drop them) if it all hits the
fan, will be a good start.
When we look at structures to determine if we can save them or not
("structure triage") we look at the type of construction we're dealing with
(wood frame, lightweight construction, balloon construction [Victorians],
etc) as well as access. Areas of concern are un-boxed eves, decks that
aren't closed underneath, and any "exposures" such as stacks of firewood,
propane tanks, or cars or other things that could be a large source of heat
near the house when the area is burning. Anywhere piles of leaves gather is
where embers from the fire will likely gather -- keep a look out for drifts
of leaves abutting the structures (or collecting under decks and such), and
clear them to bare mineral soil if possible. Shake or shingle siding is a
real drag, as are shake roofs. Try to move to something a little less
flammable if you're doing any remodelling.
We are also very concerned about our own safety while trying to defend your
home, so we prefer that there be room for two-way traffic in and out of your
street or long driveway, and ideally, two ways in/out from your place.
Clear any brush back from the road, and keep in mind that our trucks are
decidedly wider than a car, and taller too -- make room for us to get in,
and ideally, a place for us to get turned around and get headed back out
We'll get some links up at www.bonnydoonfire.org that will point to
information from the FireSafe Council about how to prep your home to be
defensible. Also, keep an eye out for info in the Battle Mountain News
about a community meeting some time this summer to talk more about the
Martin Fire and how we can have our mountain in better shape for the future.
This isn't over - this is WAY too early in the season for this stuff to be
happening (the Summit and Martin fires). The whole mountain is dry - we got
about half of the rain last winter than we usually get. The winds are up
compared to normal (as are the temperatures), and we aren't getting near as
much fog higher up the hill as we usually do. There is STILL enough fuel in
the ecological reserve to re-burn, and the rest of the mountain still has a
lot of dead wood/brush (a.k.a. FUEL) lying around. Get/rent a chipper and
put it to work. It's DRY out there. Heads up!
Even if you do all of the suggested work, it won't help you if your
neighbors aren't playing along, so cajole and convince others to play our
game and your home will stand a better chance if/when the firestorm heads