Every year, devastating wildfires burn across the United States. At the same time, a growing number of people are living where wildfires are a real risk.
The 2021 fire year is halfway through, and it has been a busy one so far. As of today, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reports over 32,000 fires had been reported, burning over 1.6 million acres. Communities have been threatened and homes have been lost. Oregon is experiencing a horrific fire season already.
Looking forward, the National Interagency Fire Center’s (NIFC’s) Predictive Services newest National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for July, August, September, and October 2021 shows much of the west above normal wildfire potential. This is setting up for a volatile situation.
While the main objective of NIFC’s outlook is to improve information to fire management decision makers for proactive wildland fire management, thus better protecting lives and property, reducing firefighting costs and improving firefighting efficiency; it can also be of use to wildfire preparedness practitioners and residents.
The outlook reminds us to be proactive, dedicating time throughout the year to improve your home’s chances of withstanding a wildfire.
While these fires will continue to happen, there are things you can do to protect your home and neighborhood as well as your family’s safety. The Firewise USA® program is here to help you get started.
Preparing homes for wildfire
What are the primary threats to homes during a wildfire?
Research around home destruction vs. home survival in wildfires point to embers and small flames as the main way that the majority of homes ignite in wildfires. Embers are burning pieces of airborne wood and/or vegetation that can be carried more than a mile through the wind can cause spot fires and ignite homes, debris and other objects.
There are methods for homeowners to prepare their homes to withstand ember attacks and minimize the likelihood of flames or surface fire touching the home or any attachments. Experiments, models and post-fire studies have shown homes ignite due to the condition of the home and everything around it, up to 200’ from the foundation. This is called the Home Ignition Zone (HIZ).
Learn more about how wildfires spread and ignite home in our online course Understanding the Wildfire Threat to Homes. An overview of fire history, fire basics, and how homes burn.
What is the Home Ignition Zone?
The concept of the home ignition zone was developed by retired USDA Forest Service fire scientist Jack Cohen in the late 1990s, following some breakthrough experimental research into how homes ignite due to the effects of radiant heat. The HIZ is divided into three zones.
The home and the area 0-5’ from the furthest attached exterior point of the home; defined as a non-combustible area. Science tells us this is the most important zone to take immediate action on as it is the most vulnerable to embers. START WITH THE HOUSE ITSELF then move into the landscaping section of the Immediate Zone.
- Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles that could catch embers.
- Replace or repair any loose or missing shingles or roof tiles to prevent ember penetration.
- Reduce embers that could pass through vents in the eaves by installing 1/8 inch metal mesh screening.
- Clean debris from exterior attic vents and install 1/8 inch metal mesh screening to reduce embers.
- Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens and any broken windows Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.
- Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches.
5-30’ from the furthest exterior point of the home. Landscaping/hardscaping- employing careful landscaping or creating breaks that can help influence and decrease fire behavior
- Clear vegetation from under large stationary propane tanks.
- Create fuel breaks with driveways, walkways/paths, patios, and decks.
- Keep lawns and native grasses mowed to a height of four inches.
- Remove ladder fuels (vegetation under trees) so a surface fire cannot reach the crowns. Prune trees up to six to ten feet from the ground; for shorter trees do not exceed 1/3 of the overall tree height.
- Space trees to have a minimum of eighteen feet between crowns with the distance increasing with the percentage of slope.
- Tree placement should be planned to ensure the mature canopy is no closer than ten feet to the edge of the structure.
- Tree and shrubs in this zone should be limited to small clusters of a few each to break up the continuity of the vegetation across the landscape.
30-100 feet, out to 200 feet. Landscaping – the goal here is not to eliminate fire but to interrupt fire’s path and keep flames smaller and on the ground.
- Dispose of heavy accumulations of ground litter/debris.
- Remove dead plant and tree material.
- Remove small conifers growing between mature trees.
- Remove vegetation adjacent to storage sheds or other outbuildings within this area.
- Trees 30 to 60 feet from the home should have at least 12 feet between canopy tops.*
- Trees 60 to 100 feet from the home should have at least 6 feet between the canopy tops.*
*The distances listed for crown spacing are suggested based on NFPA 1144. However, the crown spacing needed to reduce/prevent crown fire potential could be significantly greater due to slope, the species of trees involved and other site specific conditions. Check with your local forestry professional to get advice on what is appropriate for your property.
Understanding the Wildfire Threat to Homes
Here is an online learning module that is an overview of fire history, fire basics, and how homes burn.
It’s an excellent resource for residents and other stakeholders that are pursuing knowledge on the basics of how wildfires ignite homes and the actions that can be implemented to make homes safer. The module can be completed in approximately 30 minutes.
Tips to Save Time, Money, and Stress During Wildfire Evacuations
The Bootleg, Jack, and Grandview wildfires have sparked several evacuation orders. The Oregon Division of Financial Regulation has wildfire insurance resources available to help people in each evacuation level.
Completing these tasks can help save you and your family time, money, and stress before, during, and after a wildfire.
Level 3 evacuation: If you receive the level 3 order, leave your home as soon as possible.
- When it is safe, let your insurance company know that you have been ordered to evacuate. Confirm your policy coverage, deductible, and specific coverage limits.
- Save all receipts. Many insurance companies will help cover expenses such as lodging, food, and pet boarding.
- Work on a home inventory list.
- Look through photos and videos to help recall personal items. Pay close attention to what is in the background and look for smaller items, such as jewelry.
- To the best of your ability, write down the age, original cost, and replacement cost of each item.
Level 1 and 2 evacuation:
- Contact your insurance company to check your policy.
- Ask about deductible and specific coverage limits
- Ask about auto coverage. You need comprehensive coverage on your vehicle to cover damage caused by a wildfire.
- Make a quick home inventory.
- Take photos of each room in your home. Do not forget storage areas, such as the attic, shed, and garage.
- Check your insurance company’s website for an app or checklist that will help.
- Build a financial backpack.
- Gather important financial documents, such as passports, Social Security cards, insurance policies, titles, deeds, and financial accounts.
- Make copies or scan them to your phone or computer.
- Place all of the information with your go-bag of emergency supplies so this information is with you when you need to evacuate.
Outside of evacuation zone: The time to prepare is now.
Follow the disaster preparedness tips provided by the division at dfr.oregon.gov/preparenow.
More resources are available on the division’s wildfire insurance resources page.
If you have questions about insurance coverage, speak to your insurance company or agent. If you still have questions or concerns, the Division of Financial Regulation consumer advocacy team can help.
• Call 888-877-4894 (toll-free)
• Email .firstname.lastname@example.org“>email@example.com
• Visit dfr.oregon.gov
About DCBS: The Department of Consumer and Business Services is Oregon’s largest business regulatory and consumer protection agency. For more information, visit dcbs.oregon.gov.
About Oregon DFR: The Division of Financial Regulation is part of the Department of Consumer and Business Services, Oregon’s largest business regulatory and consumer protection agency. Visit dcbs.oregon.gov and dfr.oregon.gov. — Oregon Dept. of Consumer & Business Services