Wildfire season is upon us in the U.S., especially here in Northern California where we’re currently in one of the worst droughts we’ve ever experienced. Every time I turn the television on it seems they’re breaking into regularly scheduled programming to alert us of another wildfire taking off in a nearby city. If you’ve ever thought that your home is safe from wildfires, think again. All it takes is one ember from a fire just miles away, and you can lose your home, possessions, and everything you hold near and dear to your heart.
Thankfully there are simple steps you can take to protect your humble abode from wildfires! Renowned wildfire expert and wildlife consultant Pat Durland of Stone Creek Fire LLC joined me for an interview from Colorado to discuss just why wildfire exposure is increasing across America, who is at risk for wildfires, what those of us in California (and across the United States) can do to protect ourselves and our homes from wildfires and helpful organizations we all need to know about.
Candace Rose: Why is wildfire exposure increasing across America?
Pat Durland: “There are two reasons – more people and then we’re seeing modern wildfires that are unlike what we’ve seen in the past. They burn with an intensity and are driven by strong winds and depositing hot embers miles from the main fire. Our exposure is increasing like we haven’t seen it before. We’re in a new era of modern wildfires that can be very destructive.”
Candace Rose: Who is most at risk for long-term wildfires?
Pat Durland: “The risk from a wildfire, and it’s important to remember that it’s not so much where you live, as how you live. If those embers from a wildfire a long ways away are dropping from the sky like wooden matches burning or being blown into your home and trying to make their way through openings and vents in your house, it’s stuff you need to take care of before the event. Unlike a tornado or a hurricane or a flood, we have an advantage with a wildfire because it’s a process of combustion and it needs heat and fuel to continue. Actually, we can modify the fuel in a localized area and control whether it occurs or not in a small area. We can’t change the path of a tornado, but we can change the path of a wildfire.”
Candace Rose: Which states and geographic regions are currently most at risk for wildfires and why?
Pat Durland: “Well, everybody in the United States goes through a wildfire season or a seasonal period of fire conditions and in the past we’ve kind of compartmentalized those things and that’s a problem because it surprised us. I think the better way to think about this is to realize that with the right conditions – mild winters, lack of rainfall, drought, wind conditions that any place in the U.S. at any particular time can be susceptible to severe fires and losses.”
Candace Rose: I live in California where we’re currently in one of the worst droughts ever. Is there anything those of us who live in the state can do to prevent wildfires?
Pat Durland: “Totally. The first thing I would suggest folks do because there’s a lot of misinformation on this subject, is go to a site. Sit down on your computer before you go outside and spend a little time educating yourself on what actually the facts are and how to identify and mitigate hazards. You can do that, the insurance companies are innovative and getting on board now, companies like USAA – go to their dot com site and do a search for wildfire (USAA.com); Firewise.org has checklists and online interactive training, and then there’s even an app for your phone called WDSpro that you can download, that’s the first thing to do.
Then go outside and look at the roof. You want a noncombustible roof that doesn’t have openings and cracks and is free of litter. You want to clean the litter out of your gutters that could ignite from embers. You want to make sure your screening on your attic vents and on your home vents is less than an eighth of an inch so embers can’t enter and ignite your house from the inside.
Then you want to move out into that five foot zone directly adjacent to your house and you want to replace wood mulch and flammable material with rock mulch or pavers and plants that don’t ignite by wildfires.
Then out in your main landscape area, you want to look and keep it lean, clean and green and make sure that if there is an ember ignition that you don’t have fuels that are going to bring those flames to your house because flame contact to a house is a bad deal.”
Candace Rose: How do vegetation and landscaping ignite structures?
Pat Durland: “Well, basically through what we’ve talked about – that ember attack thing, so we want to harden our house against ember attacks, so those embers that land don’t have anything to ignite and they just burn out on their own on a noncombustible roof or in a metal gutter for instance. Then we want to break those wicks of dry grass and fuel and dry bushes that would lead a surface fire in flames to the house.
We can keep the embers from igniting the house and keep a surface fire at 30 or 100 feet from the house, we’ve given our house and our property and our valuables a great opportunity and a highly likely probability that if the fire department doesn’t show up and you’re not home, it will still be there when the smoke clears even after an intense wildfire.”
Candace Rose: Do you have any additional tips or information you’d like to share?
Pat Durland: “Well, it boils down to paying attention and acting. Once you understand what we’re talking about here and what’s going to ignite, it pretty much boils down to stuff you can do on the weekend. It’s yard work and as one guy put it to me, he said three words -‘Maintenance, Maintenance, Maintenance’. If you can’t do that, some people can’t, but you may have landscapers or you may have other resources in your community that can help you do that, and this becomes a community event. That’s when instead of one home being protected, we’ll have a wildfire in an area and everybody’s home survives.”
Candace Rose: Well, thank you so much for the great wildfire prevention tips, Pat. Where can we go for more information?