It's wildfire season: 5 things your clients need to know

Many people don’t realize that they face serious wildfire danger. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Many people don’t realize that they face serious wildfire danger. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Many people don’t realize that they may face serious wildfire danger. But if your clients live in the foothills, grasslands or mountains of states like Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, or Wyoming, they are at risk.

According to the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS), for homeowners living in areas at high risk for wildfires, there are number of pre-fire activities that will decrease the likelihood of property damage and loss. How a house is designed, where it is built, materials used in its construction and landscape, and access to the home all influence survivability during wildfire.

Also, the CSFS offers some guidelines for homeowners about what specific actions to take when a wildfire is an immediate threat.

1. Construction

Homeowners should build their home with fire-resistant building mateirals and away from ridge tops, canyons and areas between high points on a ridge. It is also recommended that a home in a fire-prone area be built at least 30 feet from the property line.

The underside of balconies and above-ground decks should be enclosed with fire-resistant materials. Install only dual-paned or triple-paned windows and limit the size and number of windows that face large areas of vegetaion.

[Related: The 11 rules every homeowner needs to follow when creating a home inventory]

Consider sprinkler systems within the house. They may protect the home while owners are away or prevent a house fire from spreading into the wildlands.

Homeowners should make sure that electric service lines, fuse boxes and circuit breaker panels are installed and maintained as prescribed by code. Remind your clients that they should always contact qualified individuals to perform electrical maintenance and repairs.

wildfire approaching homes in southern California

(Photo: Shutterstock)

2. Roofing

Roofing is one of the most important ways to protect a structure from wildfire. A home with a nonflammable roof (composition shingles, tile, metal, etc.) is many times more likely to survive a wildfire than those with flammable roofs (wood shakes or shingles). Homeowners should install a roof that meets the fire resistance classification of “Class C” or better. Local jurisdictions may require a higher fire resistance rating. Homeowners should check county regulations or contact the local fire department.

Also, for additional safety, be sure to encourage homeowner to follow these recommendations:

  • Remove dead branches hanging over a roof
  • Remove any branches within 15 feet of a chimney
  • Clean all dead leaves and needles from roof and gutters
  • Cover the chimney outlet and stovepipe with a nonflammable screen of one-half inch or smaller mesh

For more information on appropriate roofing materials and other fire-resistant building design and materials, refer to the Colorado State Forest Service publication, FireWise Construction: Site Design & Building Materials (PDF).

wildfire in distance

(Photo: Shutterstock)

3. Defensible space

In the 1980s, the term “defensible space” was coined to describe vegetation management practices aimed at reducing wildfire threats to homes. Defensible space is the area between a house and an oncoming wildfire where the vegetation has been modified to reduce the wildfire threat and to provide an opportunity for firefighters to effectively defend the house.

The vegetation adjacent to homes can have considerable influence upon the survivability of the house. In the event of a wildfire, firefighters will likely select homes they can most safely and effectively protect. Even with adequate resources, some wildfires may be so intense that there may be little firefighters can do to prevent a house from burning.

The key is to reduce fire intensity as wildfire nears the house. This can be accomplished by reducing the amount of flammable vegetation surrounding a home. Consequently, the most important person in protecting a house from wildfire is not a firefighter, but the property owner. The action taken by the owner before the wildfire occurs (such as proper landscaping) is the most critical.

For the most part, creating a defensible space employs routine gardening and landscape maintenance practices such as pruning, mowing, weeding, plant removal, appropriate plant selection, and irrigation. Defensible space size is not the same for everyone, but varies by slope and type of wildland vegetation growing near the house.

Firefighters and emergency personal rush to control fires in Brea, California

(Photo: mikeledray /

4. Access

When a wildfire threatens, the first few minutes are the most critical for saving a home. Firefighting personnel must be able to immediately locate and safely travel to the property. At the same time that fire engines and other emergency equipment are trying to drive into an area, homeowners must be able to escape in a vehicle with their family and valuable personal possessions.

Each of these steps will give firefighters a chance to find and protect a home:

  • Make sure that your street is named or numbered, and a sign is visibly posted at each street intersection.
  • Post your house address at the beginning of your driveway, or on the house if it is easilty visible fom the road
  • Identify at least two exit routes from your neighborhood
  • Construct driveways to allow large emergency equipment to reach your house
  • Make sure dead-end roads and long driveways have turnaround areas wide enough for emergency vehicles. Construct turnouts along one-way roads
  • Clear flammable vegetation at least 10 feet from roads and five feet from driveways
  • Cut back overhanging tree branches above roads

wildfire approaching at night

(Photo: Shutterstock)

5. What to do when wildfire approaches

When a wildfire is immediately threatening an area, there are certain steps that gives residents and their home a better chance of surviving. Recommend the following actions to your clients:

  • If you see a fire approaching your home, report it immediately by dialing 9-1-1
  • Stay on the phone to answer additional questions the emergency dispatcher may ask
  • Dress properly to prevent burns and lifelong scars. Wear long pants, cotton or wool longsleeve shirts or jackets. Gloves and a damp cloth provide added protection. Do not wear short sleeve shirts or clothing made of synthetic fabrics

Prepare to evacuate

  • Park your car in the garage, facing out with windows closed and keys in the ignition.
  • Close the garage door but leave it unlocked.
  • Disconnect the automatic garage door opener in case of power failure.
  • Place valuable documents, family mementos and pets inside the car in the garage ready for quick departure.

What to do outside the house

  • Move combustible yard furniture away from the house or store it in the garage (if it catches fire while outside, the added heat could ignite your house).
  • Cover windows, attic openings, eave vents and sub-floor vents with fire-resistive material such as 1/2-inch or thicker plywood. This will eliminate the possibility of sparks blowing into hidden areas within the house.
  • Close window shutters if they are fire resistive.
  • Attach garden hoses to spigots and place them so they can reach any area of your house.
  • Fill trash cans and buckets with water and place them where firefighters can find them.
  • If you have an emergency generator or a portable gasoline-powered pump that will supply water from a swimming pool, pond, well or tank, clearly mark its location and make sure it is ready to operate.
  • Place a ladder against the house on the side opposite the approaching fire to help firefighters in rapidly getting onto your roof.

What do inside the house

  • Close all windows and doors to prevent sparks from blowing inside.
  • Close all doors inside the house to slow down fire spread from room to room.
  • Turn on a light in each room of your house, on the porch and in the yard. This will make the house more visible in heavy smoke or darkness.
  • Shut off liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or natural gas valves.
  • Move furniture away from windows and sliding glass doors to keep it from igniting from the heat of fire radiating through windows.
  • Remove your curtains and drapes. If you have metal blinds or special fire resistant window coverings, close them to block heat radiation.


  • If you do evacuate, travel away from the approaching fire front.
  • Keep a flashlight and portable radio with you at all times.
  • If you are trapped by fire while evacuating in your car, park in an area clear of vegetation, close all vehicle windows and vents, cover yourself with a blanket or jacket and lie on the floor.
  • If you are trapped by fire while evacuating on foot, select an area clear of vegetation along a road, or lie in the road ditch. Cover any exposed skin with a jacket or blanket. Avoid canyons that can concentrate and channel fire.

If you are in the home when a fire approaches

  • Stay inside your house, away from outside walls.
  • Close all doors, but leave them unlocked.
  • Keep your entire family together and remain calm. Remember: if it gets hot in the house, it is many times hotter and more dangerous outside.

After the fire passes

  • After a fire passes, check inside the attic for hidden burning embers.
  • Check the roof immediately, extinguishing all sparks and embers. If you must climb onto the roof, use caution, especially if it is wet.
  • Check inside the attic for hidden burning embers.
  • Check your yard for burning woodpiles, trees, fence posts or other materials.
  • Keep the doors and windows closed.
  • Continue rechecking your home and yard for burning embers for at least 12 hours.

Apr 17, 2015 | By Jayleen R. Heft

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