Preparing for Wildfires: Preventive Measures and Safety Tips
Living along the foothills of the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains may bring breathtaking views and provide fun outdoor activities for the La Verne community, but living in this area is not without risk. This is especially true if your home borders a natural area, which firefighters refer to as Wildland Urban Interface. These areas are susceptible to wildfire events.
Wildfire has been a natural part of the ecosystem in Southern California for thousands of years. And while the month of October used to be our region’s peak fire season, recent events have demonstrated that wildfires have become more frequent, intense and unpredictable. The reality is that the risk of a wildland fire is now a year-round threat to communities like La Verne, requiring vigilance on the part of both the fire service and residents alike.
Wildfires are often fueled by dry vegetation and high winds. The survivability of a home from wildfire depends on both its construction materials and quality of the “defensible space” surrounding it. Windblown embers from a wildfire often find the weak link in a home’s fire protection scheme and gain the upper hand because of a small, overlooked or seemingly inconsequential factor.
However, there are measures La Verne residents can take to safeguard their home from wildfire. While it may not always be feasible to accomplish or implement all of the measures listed below, each will increase your home’s and possibly your family’s safety and survival.
- Address markers should be clearly visible to first responders, day or night, from the road.
Home Site and Yard
Residents should also ensure homes have at least a 100-foot radius of defensible space (managed vegetation) around their home. This includes looking beyond one’s own property line to determine the impact a common slope or neighbor’s yard may have on your property during a wildfire. Your entire property should be maintained and kept free of combustible materials and fire hazards, which can be accomplished by:
- Cutting dry weeds and long grass, preferably before noon when temperatures are cooler to reduce the chances of sparking a fire.
- Ensuring trees and branches are at least four (4) feet away from power lines.
- Landscaping with fire-resistant plants that are low-growing with high-moisture content.
- Properly disposing of all bagged and cut materials, or chip and spread all materials to no higher than three (3) inches in height.
- Keeping woodpiles, propane tanks and combustible materials away from your home and other structures, such as garages, barns and sheds.
Driveways and Access Roads
- Driveways should be designed to allow fire and emergency vehicles and equipment to reach your home.
- Access roads should have a minimum 10-foot clearance on either side of the traveled section of the roadway and should allow for two-way traffic.
- Ensure that all gates open inward and are wide enough to accommodate emergency equipment.
- Trim trees and shrubs overhanging the road to a minimum of 13½ feet to allow emergency vehicles to pass.
- Cover chimney outlets with a nonflammable screen of ¼-inch wire mesh or smaller to prevent embers from escaping and igniting a fire.
- Make sure that your chimney is at least 10 feet away from any tree branches.
The roof is the most vulnerable part of a home because it can easily catch fire from windblown embers. Please note that homes with wood shake or shingle roofs are at a higher risk of being destroyed during a wildfire. With this in mind, please consider:
- Building your roof or re-roofing with fire-resistant materials that include composition, metal or tile.
- Blocking any spaces between roof decking and patio covering to prevent ember intrusion.
- Cutting any tree branches within 10 feet of your roof and home.
Vents on homes are particularly vulnerable to flying embers, therefore:
- All vent openings should be covered with 1/8-inch or smaller metal mesh. Do not use fiberglass or plastic mesh because they can melt and burn.
- Attic vents in eaves or cornices should be baffled to prevent ember intrusion (mesh is not enough).
- Clear pine needles, leaves and other debris from your roof and gutters.
- Screen or enclose rain gutters to prevent accumulation of plant debris.
- Use heavy timber or non-flammable construction material for decks and patio covers.
- Enclose the underside of balconies and decks with fire-resistant materials to prevent embers from igniting items underneath.
- Keep your deck clear of combustible items, such as baskets, dried flower arrangements, and other debris.
- Make sure any decking surface is ignition-resistant if it’s within 10 feet of the home.
Non-Combustible Boxed-In (Soffit) Eaves
- Box-in eaves with non-combustible materials to prevent accumulation of embers.
- Make sure to use non-combustible fencing to protect your home during a wildfire.
- Have a fire extinguisher and tools, such as a shovel, rake, bucket and hoe, available for fire emergencies.
- Install a solid door with self-closing hinges between living areas and the garage.
- Install weather stripping around and under the doors to prevent ember intrusion.
- Store all combustibles and flammable liquids away from ignition sources.
- Keep fire extinguishers in working condition on hand and train your family members how to use them
- Check fire extinguisher expiration dates regularly and replace as needed.
- Install smoke alarms on each level of your home and near bedrooms. Test them monthly and change the batteries twice a year.
- For concerns about weeds or brush in open space areas, please contact the Los Angeles Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures (ACWM) Weed Hazard Bureau
- For concerns in around your home, please contact the LVFD Fire Protection team at 909-596-5991 (Mon.-Thur.)
- Check out this YouTube video from the National Fire Protection Association for tips on how to help keep homes from igniting in a wildfire
- Visit www.readyforwildfire.org for even more resources!