Wildfire Mitigation Saves Property and Lives
For folks that live in the mountains and foothills, the threat of wildfire is a very real prospect. People who have lived through the devastating force of a fire understand that they must mitigate their property to protect it – not for if a fire comes, but when it comes- as it’s simply a matter of time.
Local awareness has been mounting, however, with rise of each intermittent wildfire (since the Black Tiger Fire of 1989) that devastates a mountain community.
Wildfire Partners is a group of Boulder County employees, mountain homeowners, forestry contractors, local businesses, municipalities and insurance agents working together to help make the process of fire mitigation more manageable. This collective provides heavily discounted mitigation assessments for properties, provides grants to help pay for contractors doing mitigation work, and makes sure a homeowner is compliant to receive the best insurance coverage possible. Since 2014, Wildfire Partners provides a community platform for anyone affected by wildfires to communicate their struggles, as well as successes.
Defensible Space and Zone 1
One of the first things Wildfire Partners helps homeowners with is the creation of defensible space around the structures on their property, and that starts with Zone 1-or the home ignition zone- the 30 feet of space immediately surrounding a house or other structure. This area should be vigilantly maintained to eliminate potential fire-feeding hazards and give your property a fighting chance.
Vegetation (live or dead) should be kept at a minimum in Zone 1, especially within 5 feet of a structure, and this sometimes takes a variety of landscaping tools, like loppers, pruners, handsaws, chainsaws, rakes and weed trimmers. Tall grasses should be trimmed continuously with a weed trimmer or killed with a non-toxic herbicide like concentrated vinegar (many mountain homes are on wells that need to be kept uncontaminated with chemicals). Shrubs, especially non-deciduous ones like Juniper, that brush against the house should be taken out. If you want vegetation near the home, consider a low-growing solution like moss, clover or creeping succulents.
Tree branches should be trimmed if they touch the house or other trees in order to diminish the avenues a fire can take from the woods to the home. Pine cones, pine needles, branches and any other ignitable objects should be raked away from this area as well.
Combustible construction (wooden decks, sheds, porches, fences, walkways, outbuildings, woodpiles, etc.) should altered, moved or taken down from the area immediately touching the house.
Relocating woodpiles away from the house, although inconvenient when collecting firewood, is a necessary step to take to avoid a potential tinderbox. Many homeowners have started to construct simple structures with fence posts and corrugated metal roofs to keep their woodpiles dry.
Making all structures impervious to holding embers is also important, eliminating holes, cracks and crevices that could potentially trap a smoldering ember and start a fire. Fill the holes with wood putty or caulk, and make sure you are deterring any birds, like woodpeckers, that could be making new holes. Watch specifically for the areas in which wooden deck and walkway railings meet with the house- that threshold makes the perfect ember holder. Mount flashing in any susceptible corner to create a non-combustible blocker for flying embers.
Make sure the all vents are louvered to block any ember from entering a structure. Many standard fire-blocking foam to seal any vulnerabilities.
dryer vents only open when exhaust is exiting them, so make sure they stay sealed if a fire is around. If there are any trouble areas where you think an ember could enter, use a fire resistant caulk or
Once Zone 1 is taken care of, homeowners usually focus on Zone 2, the space that stretches 100 feet away from all structures on the property. Zone 2 should be thinned to reduce the amount of fuel present- and therefore reduce the intensity of an incoming fire threat.
Get rid of stressed, diseased, dead or dying trees first. Not only does this give a potential fire less fuel to work with, it maintains the health of the forest. After those trees are thinned out, it’s time to start thinking about taking others out strategically, so that there’s a 10 foot buffer between the crowns of the remaining trees in that zone.
Trim the lower branches on all the remaining trees to be kept alive, taking off all limbs to a height of 10 feet off the ground, and thus eliminating ladder fuels that allow fire to travel upwards.
Homeowners may want to consider using a fire retardant chemical approved for residential use, that’s typically the same ingredient the USDA has been using to help stop flames for the last 50 years. The chemical can either be sprayed on landscape as a preventative, or kept on hand in case of an approaching wildfire.
Many times, mitigation efforts in Zone 2 require the mutual help of cooperating neighbors whose properties may intersect. A little effort can go a long way in protecting adjacent properties.
Wildfires are not going anywhere, but luckily, neither are the growing resources for those who live in the sticks.
Stay tuned for developments in this genre; we’ll be sure to update our community regularly.