Top 10 wildfire mitigation steps you can take at home | PEMCO

May 1, 2024 by PEMCO Insurance

GettyImages-625970944.jpgWhy is wildfire mitigation important? 

Wildfires are a serious threat to many parts of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. They have the capacity to destroy homes, businesses, wildlife, and natural resources. They can also cause health problems from smoke and ash. And, to make matters even more serious, data shows that wildfire season is getting longer and more intense due to extreme weather. 

Already this year, a drought has been declared in the state of Washington due to diminished snow pack from reduced precipitation. This means PNW residents need to be even more vigilant this year as we prepare for the warmer, dryer weather that is to come. 

It’s more important than ever to take steps to reduce your home's vulnerability to wildfire and prepare for evacuation in case of an emergency. You don't have to live in a rural or forested area to be at risk. Wildfires can spread quickly and reach urban and suburban neighborhoods. Even if your home is not directly affected by flames, you may still face power outages, road closures, and poor air quality. 

In this article, our experts share 10  tips that you can do at home to mitigate the risk of wildfire impact if one begins to spread close to your home or neighborhood.

10 wildfire mitigation steps you can take at home  

Wildfire prevention starts with your house and works outward toward your property line. Here are 10 things you can do to make your home more fire-resistant and less likely to ignite from embers or flames: 

  1. Clean your gutters. Accumulated leaves and needles provide tinder for floating embers. You should clean your gutters at least twice a year, especially before and after the dry season. 

  1. Screen eave and foundation vents with 1/8-inch wire mesh to keep out blowing embers. Embers can travel long distances and ignite combustible materials inside your home. You can also install metal vent covers or fire-resistant vents for extra protection. 

  1. Remove boards and debris (and even wood-handled tools!) stashed under decks. Those materials can provide fuel for a fire that's spreading along the ground. Once they're gone, screen under decks with 1/8-inch mesh. This can help prevent ignition from floating embers. 

  1. Break up wood fences with metal gates. Fire can easily run along a wood fence, meaning your fence can give fire a pathway straight to your house. A metal gate or shield can interrupt the flames. You can also replace your wood fence with a noncombustible material like metal or stone. 

  1. Clear away fallen evergreen needles, woody debris, winterkill brush, and dried grass. Keep grass mowed and watered within 30 feet of your home. This creates a defensible space around your home that reduces the intensity and spread of fire.  

  1. Prune trees so the lowest branches are at least 15 feet high, and ensure no limbs come within 15 feet of your home. Eliminate “brush to branch” contact. This prevents fire from climbing up the trees and reaching your roof or windows. 

  1. Ensure tree crowns are spaced at least 20 feet apart. This reduces the chance of fire jumping from one tree to another and creating a crown fire, which is harder to control and more dangerous. 

  1. Mulch with pumice or gravel rather than combustible beauty bark. Consider firebreaks as part of the landscape – ornamental ponds, rocky “dry creek beds,” and graveled paths and driveways. These features can slow down or stop the fire from reaching your home. 

  1. Move firewood at least 30 feet away and uphill (if possible) from any structure. Firewood piles can easily catch fire and pose a threat to your home. Also consider storing other flammable items like propane tanks, gas cans, and lawn mowers away from your home and in a well-ventilated area. 

  1. Make your property firefighter-friendly with your address visible from the street both day and night. Widen your driveway to at least 12 feet so a fire truck can get through. You can also install a water tank or a hydrant on your property (if you don't already have one!) if you have a reliable water source. 

By following these 10 steps, you can make a big difference in your home's overall safety and wildfire vulnerability. 

Evacuation levels and what they mean 

Even if you take all the precautions to protect your home from wildfire, you may still have to evacuate if the fire gets too close or the conditions change. Fire officials classify evacuations in three levels – and each requires a different response from you: 

  • Level 1: A wildfire threatens your area. Stay alert for notices and consider packing now so you're ready to go if needed. You should also review your family emergency plan and prepare your pets and livestock for evacuation. 

  • Level 2: People with mobility and medical issues should evacuate now. Livestock should be moved now. It's likely authorities may order a general evacuation. Pack your car with essentials like your family emergency kit and personal items such as clothing, toiletries, and valuable, portable items. Make a plan for family members to meet, and include pets. 

  • Level 3: All residents are ordered to evacuate, usually via a designated route. Perimeter roadblocks may be set up. Once you're out, check in with your local Red Cross. Don't return home until officials give the all-clear. 

When it comes to evacuations, sooner is better than later. That may mean leaving at Level 2, before authorities officially order you to go. You'll avoid congested highways and the unsettling possibility of wildfire interfering with your preferred escape route. 

Remember, safeguard people before property, always. Your life and your loved ones are more important than any material possessions. Follow the instructions of the authorities and don't take unnecessary risks. 
Although wildfire risk has evolved into a concern for Northwesterners everywhere, there is still plenty you can do to tip the odds in your favor. Be on the lookout for future issues of Perspective as we will continue to share tips and tricks to help you protect what matters most. 

Note: Following these wildfire mitigation and prevention tips does not guarantee insurance coverage from PEMCO. 

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