Preparing for wildfires
Updated: Jun 8
What is a wildfire?
The United States is no stranger to wildfires, in fact, wildfires are a common occurrence in states such as California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Texas, Oklahoma, and etc. During the late winter season in 2017, Oklahomans watched as more than 400,000 acres were destroyed by an uncontrollable wildfire in both northwestern Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Panhandle.
Once the wildfire had been contained, 7 people had lost their lives. More than 1 million acres burned over the span of a few days in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. An event like this is why we must be ready for wildfires in the United States and create a prevention plan for when a wildfire occurs. However, before we can create an actual plan, we must first understand what a wildfire
is. In this section, we will discuss the three types of wildfire classifications. These classifications include ground fires, crown fires, and surface fires. First, we will discuss what a ground fire is. Ground fires have the tendency to ignite thick soil that has organic materials such as dead vegetation that has become very dry. Second, we will discuss what a crown fire is. Crown fires are known
as the most difficult type of fire to contain as the fire will burn along the top layer of the trees. For a crown fire to have sustainability, it will need strong winds, dense fuels, and slopes that are steep. The third and final classification of a wildfire is a surface fire. Surface fires are known to burn leaf litter, broken branches, and many other types of
fueling agencies at the ground level. A surface fire is generally the easiest type of fire to contain and the least threatening. Now that we have a good understanding of the type of fires that can occur, we can begin preparing for them.
Preparing for a wildfire
First, we must understand our Home Ignition Zone, an idea created by USDA Forest Service Scientist Jack Cohen. There are three levels to the Home Ignition Zone, that being the Extended Zone, which is about 30 to 100 feet away from your home, then the Intermediate Zone, which is about 5 to 30 feet from your home, and finally the Immediate Zone, which is about 0 to 5 feet away from your home. We will discuss each individually.
When a wildfire is approaching the “Extended Zone”, the idea is to not stop the fire, but actually interrupt its projected path. This can be achieved by removing ground debris, dead plants or trees, vegetation that has grown too high in an area, such as near a shed or garage which could easily add fuel to the fire. Make sure to also spread trees out that are in the extended zone so that way
they are less likely to catch fire. When a wildfire reaches the “Intermediate Zone” your focus should be on creating breaks that will decrease a wildfire’s behavior. This can be achieved by creating fuel breaks with your driveway or a walkway, removing vegetation under trees, and pruning a 15-foot space between tree crowns and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground. Finally, in the
“Immediate Zone,” your focus should be on your own house as embers from a wildfire will be able to reach it from this point. Start by clearing your gutters and roof of dead leaves and any other material that may easily be combustible. Be sure to replace shingles that are broken, this way embers are not able to enter the house and start the
house on fire. Be sure to install a mesh screen with about 1/8th inch metal to any vents leading outside and into your attic, this way embers can not make it inside. Consider replacing any window that may be broken along with your window screen if it is also broken. By doing this you are preventing debris and combustible material from building up and creating a fire hazard.
Finally, remove any combustible material from the exterior of your house. This includes removing vines from walls and keeping the grass around the building mown short. Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from the building and remove branches that extend over the roof. The distance from a building to any nearby tree should be greater than the height of the tree at its mature stage. Lastly, ask your power company to clear branches that may be near power lines.
Together we can mitigate the chance of damage being done to our properties during a wildfire if we follow some of the steps mentioned in this wildfire preparedness blog. We can even mitigate the loss of life as we will be creating better fire-resistant communities. I hope that you have learned something new from this blog. If you enjoyed reading this blog, consider signing up for our monthly newsletter to get a sneak peek at what we will be discussing each month.
About the writer: Michael Thornton is a recent Emergency Management graduate at Rose State College with a certificate in Emergency Planning & Preparedness. He has a background in meteorological studies and is a NOAA Weather-Ready Nation ambassador who works with individuals, businesses, and governments to create more disaster-resilient communities.