Knowing about fire behavior can protect your home from wildfire

Every spring, homeowners should inspect their property to eliminate hazards that can burn their homes and damage their property from spreading wildfires.

To start and sustain any type of fire three elements or “ingredients” are needed: oxygen, heat and fuel. In the case of wildfires, oxygen is abundant in the air and heat is provided by some type of ignition source such as lightning, discarded burning cigarettes or unsupervised debris or campfires. Dried grass, brush, and dead leaves provide fuel to a wildfire. And your home can possibly be fuel as well. However, there are several practices that landowners can implement to make their personal property safer and reduce the risk of wildfire damage.

Although homeowners and forest landowners may not have much control over the oxygen and heat elements once a wildfire has started, they do have some control over the fuel element on their property. The Michigan State University Extension Firewise program offers homeowners the following tips on minimizing the risk of wildfire damage around their homes and personal property.

Some safety practices are simple and easy to implement. Many of these practices are designed to counter wildfire behavior and thereby reduce the risk to personal property. For example, wildfire can move quickly across the ground where dead and dry vegetation exists. Homeowners can counter this threat by watering their lawns early in the spring. Green vegetation rarely burns or at least greatly slows down the progression of a fire – giving firefighters a greater chance to battle the flames. In addition, instead of using wood chips and other forms of combustible mulch in flower beds that are growing close to the foundation of a house, homeowners can install stone or gravel mulches instead. Creating a barrier three to five feet through the use of stone mulches also helps reduce the threat posed by ground-based wildfires.

Wildfires and the intense heat associated with these types of fires can send burning embers up into the air. Once airborne, these burning embers or firebrands can travel from one-quarter to one mile in the wind. If these embers land on a combustible source of fuel, new fires will be started. Therefore, even something as simple as cleaning out gutters and eaves of dried leaves and needles as well as removing debris off of the roof can prevent an ember from igniting the roof of a home. Also, dried leaves and grass that pile up under outdoor decks and porches should also be cleaned out regularly to reduce the risk of embers being blown underneath a deck or porch and starting a fire.

If ground fires move from the ground level and up into the crowns of trees it makes battling these wildfires even more difficult and more of a threat to homes because of the intense radiant heat generated from both burning grass and burning trees. Therefore, homeowners should consider removing all but scattered trees within a 30-60-foot fuel break around their home. In addition, for any trees left within this fuel break, homeowners should prune off all branches up to a height of 6-10 feet from the ground. This will help prevent fast-moving ground fires from “laddering” up into the tree crowns.

For more information on wildfire safety, MSU Extension bulletins Understanding Wildfire Behavior in Michigan and Protecting Your Michigan home from Wildfire can be purchased from the MSU Extension Bookstore.

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