Avoiding Wildfire Damage

A Checklist for Homeowners

If you live in a forest or wildland area, you face the real danger of wildfire. Wildfires destroy thousands of homes and devastate hundreds of thousands of acres of woodland every year.

Protecting your home from wildfire is your responsibility. To reduce the risk, you’ll need to consider the fire resistance of your home, the topography of your property, and the nature of the vegetation close by.

This homeowner’s checklist will help you learn what you can do. You should also contact your local fire department, forestry office, emergency management office, or building department for information about local fire laws, building codes, and protection measures.

Always be ready for an emergency evacuation. Evacuation may be the only way to protect your family in a wildfire. Know where to go and what to bring with you. You should plan several escape routes in case roads are blocked by a wildfire.

Do you know your wildfire risk?

Learn about the history of wildfire in your area. Be aware of recent weather. A long period without rain increases the risk of wildfire. Consider having a professional inspect your property and offer recommendations for reducing the wildfire risk. Determine your community’s ability to respond to wildfire. Are roads leading to your property clearly marked? Are the roads wide enough to allow firefighting equipment to get through? Is your house number visible from the roadside?

Have you thinned out and maintained the vegetation around the house?

All vegetation is fuel for a wildfire, though some trees and shrubs are more flammable than others. To reduce the risk, you will need to modify or eliminate brush, trees, and other vegetation near your home. The greater the distance between your home and the vegetation, the greater the protection.

Create a 30-foot safety zone around the house. Keep the volume of vegetation in this zone to a minimum. If you live on a hill, extend the zone on the downhill side. Fire spreads rapidly uphill. The steeper the slope, the more open space you will need to protect your home. In this zone, do the following:

  • Remove vines from the walls of the house.
  • Move shrubs and other landscaping away from the sides of the house.
  • Prune branches and shrubs within 15 feet of chimneys and stovepipes.
  • Remove tree limbs within 15 feet of the ground.
  • Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns.
  • Replace highly flammable vegetation such as pine, evergreen, eucalyptus, junipers, and fir trees with lower growing, less flammable species. Check with your local fire department or garden store for suggestions.
  • Replace vegetation that has living or dead branches from the ground level up (these act as ladder fuels for the approaching fire).
  • Cut the lawn often.
  • Clear the area of leaves, brush, dead limbs, and fallen trees.

Create a second zone at least 100 feet around the house. This zone should begin about 30 feet from the house and extend to at least 100 feet. In this zone, reduce or replace as much of the most flammable vegetation as possible. If you live on a hill, you may need to extend the zone for several hundred feet to provide the desired level of safety.

Visit the FEMA website for more tips on keeping your home safe from wildfires.