Wildfires are unpredictable and destructive beyond belief. If you live off the grid in a fire-prone area, you need to prepare your home and family to survive a wildfire. It is known that wildfires can occur anywhere, but they are most dangerous in heavily wooded areas.
Once the dry period sets in and the undergrowth becomes brittle and flammable, it’s just a matter of time until people have to deal with a wildfire. Those who live in California know it all too well and for them, 2014 was a hot year. According to fire officials, the state of California has dealt with 2,500 wildfires that year. Even though a wildfire can start once lightning strikes trees in a wooded area, there are also “less-natural” causes that official have to worry about.
To top it all, people have no clue how to prepare their homes to survive a wildfire. Learning how to create a defensible space can reduce the risks of losses of property. Even more, if a fire should occur in that area, it will also reduce the number of lives being lost. Creating a firewise area will not only help you survive a wildfire, but it will also provide access to surrounding areas for firefighters.
The recommendations listed in this article were sent to us by John Brand from Minnesota. He and his family manage to survive a wildfire in 2013 and they learned how to prepare their home for future threats.
Follow these rules to survive a wildfire:
According to his email, there are some things you need to do within 30 to 100 feet of a home or off-grid shelter. The further the distance the more effective these tactics are.
Remove small trees, household debris, brush and ground fuels such as leaves and pine needles. These will fuel a wildfire and you home will stand no chance. To survive a wildfire, make sure you also cut all the dead trees within the recommended area.
As a general rule, you should prune lower tree limbs to a height of 10 feet. This will prevent the ladder fuels for a fire to go from the ground up into the crown of trees.
If you have conifer trees on your property and if you don’t want to eliminate them, you should at least thin them. A safety rule implies to space all your trees so that crowns are at least 10 feet apart. This would prevent the fire from jumping through the crowns.
Another good tactic to survive a wildfire would be to plant short green grass or firewise plants. If you want to keep a lawn you should make time to water and mow it. In general, lawns act as fire breakers.
Other tactics to implement on your property:
When building your off-grid home, make sure you choose fire-resistant materials. You can use non-combustible materials on roofs to protect your home. Concrete domes are also ideal homes because they offer a better protection and can survive a wildfire without major damage.
Always store firewood away from your cabin. The same goes for any other type of fuel you are storing for your off-grid household. Some people keep a gas cache and for them it is imperative that said gas cache is situated away from their living area. I should be kept away from any source of heat or flame. It should be located at least 100 feet from their shelter.
A lot of houses burn down because the firefighters can get to them in time. The fire department recommends improving access to your off-grid home by widening the driveway. The recommended clearance is 12 feet wide and 14 feet high. This means that pruning up branches is also recommended in order for the emergency equipment to reach your home.
Highly flammable items such as gasoline, paint and solvents should be stored in a coo, well-ventilated area away from other structures.
Another good tactic to survive a wildfire is to leave at least 10 feet between any outbuildings. This should be planed before the construction phase begins and it’s often overlooked by many off-gridders.
Related reading: The Eight Principles of Emergency Evacuation
Keeping a garden hose on at least two sides of your house will also help you survive a wildfire. You just have to make sure they are long enough to reach the outer portions of the property.
The area within 3 feet of a construction should be maintained free of combustible materials. If you want to survive a wildfire, make sure there is gravel, stone chips or concrete used for the driveway in the surrounding home area.
Another general rule that people ignore is to keep their rain gutters and roof free of leaves, pine needles and other flammable debris. This is a real fire hazard and if you don’t do regular clean-ups, those debris will be ignited by windblown sparks.
If you have any neighbors in the vicinity, you should try and talk with them about becoming firewise. Make a plan to work together, to reduce fire hazard and assist one another in case a fire occurs. Working as a team in isolated areas will help you survive a wildfire and protect your assets.
Another good tactic to survive a wildfire would be to reinforce you safe perimeter with fire-resistant plants. I was unaware that there are plants with proprieties that make them less likely to ignite. John told me about the plants that are recommended to be planted in zones which are prone to wildfires.
Here are the plants recommended to prevent a wildfire from spreading:
- Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
- Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)
- Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
- Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
- Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago)
- Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
- Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata)
The list is not exclusive and you can find more at firewise.org/wildfire-preparedness/.
Living in the beautiful forests and mountains of the country appeals to a large number of people. However, the price of living in such wonderful areas is vigilance and respect for the dangers that come with it. Learning how to prepare your home to survive a wildfire is mandatory if you want to protect your family and your property.
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