It’s not only Californians and Arizonites that need to watch out for wildfires and brush fires. Anyone living on or near brush or forest area here in Florida also needs to safeguard their home. Regular maintenance and some basic fire prevention techniques can help protect your most valuable investment.
On March 8th, the Florida Forest Service was called upon to fight several brush fires in Spring Hill. The fast-moving fire quickly covered a five-acre area. Thankfully firefighters managed to contain the blaze before any structures sustained damage. “There’s a home in the middle, but fortunately he keeps up with his property. It came right to the edge of the manicured lawn and went out,” said Brian Prill with Florida Forest Service. At present, there is no known cause for the fire. “We get days like today with low humidity, stronger winds so we should be pretty dry from now until probably mid-May when we start getting those afternoon pop-up thunderstorms,” said Prill.
The residents of Spring Hill living in the five-acre fire zone were not merely lucky, they were well- prepared for the possibility of a forest fire. You can be prepared too. Here’s how.
How to prepare your property to resist brush fires and wildfire
One of the most important techniques of fire prevention is the removal of all combustible materials within one to three meters surrounding a home or structure. The area closest to the home needs to be cleared of easily ignited evergreen shrubs, tall grasses, woodpiles, landscaping mulch, straw bales, and evergreen needles. These materials may pose a threat long after the main fire has been extinguished. This is because these highly flammable materials can smolder for a long time, only to reignite a few days later with devastating effect. Sadly, many homes that have initially survived wildfires have been destroyed because of this slow-burning phenomenon.
Once the closest area around the structure has been cleared of dangerous debris, the next zone needs to be properly dealt with. All trees, shrubs, and other plants should be diligently maintained and pruned to ensure that an approaching fire remains on the ground. The lawn needs to be regularly cleared of all flammable leaves and evergreen needles. The surrounding vegetation should be well-watered, the lawns well-manicured, healthy, and green. Fire-resistant, low-to-the-ground thick-leaved succulents are an excellent addition to the landscaping as they are not highly flammable.
Trees should be planted at least 30 feet from homes, and they should not include species that hold their needles year-round. Deciduous trees and shrubs that lose their greenery in the autumn are a safer choice, as they are far less combustible than evergreens. This is imperative, especially if the trees are in close proximity to the house. Their branches should be cut back at least six feet from the ground, pruned of any dead limbs, and kept well away from eaves, gutters, and roofs.
All the branches between trees and shrubs on the property need to be spaced at least six feet apart. This spacing will prevent flames from hopping from one bush or plant to the next. It’s wise to avoid planting shrubs and plants beneath the larger trees, as they may ignite and spread to the canopy or crown of the tree.
This is especially important if the larger trees are evergreens. Once an evergreen catches fire in the crown, it moves with lightning speed and intensity, creating an instant inferno known to quickly spread to nearby structures. Generally, these protective measures work well in a 100-foot zone and prevent significant damage to nearby homes or structures. Statistically speaking, the flames of an intense wildfire do not typically destroy homes at distances of 100-feet or more.
However, if a home near a wooded area is built on a slope, the safety zone should be larger than 100-feet, as fire burns faster uphill. In these cases, surrounding vegetation should be removed even further out to slow the progression of the blaze.
Remember these important tips when landscaping and fireproofing your beautiful forest sanctuary:
- Remove dead vegetation from plants and lower branches from tall trees.
- Keep the gutters, roof, and outdoor spaces free of debris like leaves and twigs.
- Clear out window screens and attic vents.
- Move firewood at least 30 feet from the house.
- Use roofing materials with a Class A fire rating (the highest).
- Install metal angle flashing at the edge of the roof.
- Box-in eaves that have an open construction (i.e., where rafter tails are visible).
- Install metal flashing where wood decking meets the siding (if the siding is combustible).
- Replace single-pane windows with multi-pane, tempered glass windows with screens.
- Remove any combustible outdoor furniture. Replace jute or fiber doormats with fire resistant materials.
- Remove or relocate all combustible materials, including garbage and recycling containers, lumber and trash
- Clean all fallen leaves and needles regularly. Repeat often during fire season.
- Remove tree limbs that extend into this zone. No vegetation is recommended within five feet of structures.
- Do not store firewood, lumber or combustibles under decks or overhangs.
- Use only inorganic, non-combustible mulches such as stone or gravel.
- Remove vegetation and items that could catch fire from around and under decks.
Living in a forested area comes with wonderful benefits. However, being prepared for naturally occurring events like a wildfire is wise, and creating defensible safety zones around the home is a must. Here is a link with more information on how to protect your home and property: readyforwildfire.org
- Protecting Your Home Against Wildfires
- A Guide to Landscaping Practices that Protect Your Home from Wildfire
Featured Photo by Paul Bulai