Western wildfires are sweeping through Washington, Oregon, Texas and other
states, providing a stark reminder of hazards to life and property that lurk
in wildland areas. Homeowners need to think about wildfire safety year
round, the simple things from fire-safe landscaping to teaching kids how to
call 911. Whenever it takes more than a few minutes for fire emergency crews
to respond, the homeowner must take action and put a wildfire prevention and
response plan in place.
In 1985, the U.S. was hit with the worst plague of wildfires of the 20th
century. More than 83,000 fires destroyed three million acres, taking with
them 1,400 homes. 44 people died. This year, the Federal Emergency
Management Agency is already responding to wildfires with federal disaster
funds. But the biggest problem is not lack of money, according to FEMA, it's
the lack of awareness and preparedness of homeowners who find themselves in
harm's way. FEMA offers guidance to homeowners in wildfire-prone areas.
Among other things, FEMA suggests clearing combustible vegetation from around
your home, and replacing roofing with fire retardant materials. Keep
vegetation, yard debris, shrubs and overhanging limbs from becoming a pathway
for fire to reach your home. Maintain a safety zone of at least 30 feet on
the ground, and a 10-foot distance from trees. Burning branches, leaves and
other flying debris can be carried from nearby fires onto the roof by wind or
heated air. Replacing roofing materials with slate, terra cotta or other
types of tile can greatly improve your home's fire resistance. Of course,
these materials are more expensive than asphalt shingles, but the investment
may be worth it, especially if your roof is getting old and you need to
replace it anyway. Also, remember to clean roof surfaces and gutters
regularly, and remove all dead limbs, needles and leaves.
You should have a family meeting to explain the dangers of fire to the kids.
Create a game to help everyone memorize your family emergency plan, and keep
the plan simple. Discuss what to do in an evacuation, including how to take
care of your pets. Ask an out-of-state friend to be your "family contact" in
case you can't return home or the family becomes separated. Other family
members should call this person and tell them where they are. Everyone must
know your contact's phone number. Keep a battery-operated radio and extra
batteries for tuning into emergency broadcasts, and make sure everyone knows
where to find it. Post emergency telephone numbers by phones and teach
children how and when to call 911 for emergency help. Show each family
member how and when to turn off the gas and electricity at the mains switches.
If you have to evacuate your home, listen to your radio for directions and
watch for changes in the speed and direction of fire and smoke. Take
important papers that are not protected in fireproof containers but don't
waste precious time sorting through your belongings. Have an extra set of
car keys, credit cards and cash or traveler's checks on hand.
For more information, go to FEMA's web site.