Preparing Your Marin County Home For Fire Season
A recent question from a client regarding insurance issues related to fire hazard areas reminded me that as Spring winds down and the hillside grasses turn golden brown, it is time again for Marin County residents to contemplate fire safety. Indeed, there are many areas of Marin County that are particularly sensitive to fire danger. The following information is geared towards protecting against the threat of wildfires, as well as providing information about what to do if confronted with one. For more information, check out the following website: FireSafe Marin.
At the heart of preparing against the threat from wildfires, is the concept of “Defensible Space,” which refers to the area around a home that is cleared of natural combustibles, allowing firefighters a meaningful chance to fight fire and keep it away from your house. It is recommended that you clear all dry grass, brush, and fallen leaves within 30 feet (and up to 150 feet if you are on a slope). Contact your local fire department to determine the clearance requirement for your specific property (of course, do not trespass).
Before Wildfire Threatens
Design and landscape your home with wildfire safety in mind. Select materials and plants that can help contain fire, rather than fuel it. Use fire-resistant or non-combustible materials on the roof and exterior structure of the dwelling, or treat wood or combustible materials used in roofs, siding, decking or trim with UL-approved fire retardant chemicals. Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees. For example, hardwood trees are less flammable than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus or fir trees.
Protecting Your Home
· Regularly clear roof and gutters of pine needles, leaves or other debris. Trim back branches within 6 feet of the home.
· Inspect chimneys at least twice a year. Clean them at least once a year. Keep dampers in good working order. Equip chimneys with stovepipes with a non-flammable screen of 1/2 inch or smaller mesh.
· Install a smoke detector on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms; test monthly and change the battery two times each year.
· Teach family members how to use a fire extinguisher (ABC type) and show them where it is kept.
· Keep a ladder that will reach the roof.
· Consider installing protective shutters or heavy fire-resistant drapes.
· Keep household items handy that can be used as fire tools: a rake, axe, handsaw or chain saw, bucket, shovel, garden hose.
Create a Defensible Space
To create a defensible space, remove all dry grass, brush, and dead vegetation at least 30 to 100 feet around you home. Here are additional steps to help reduce potential exposure to flames and radiant heat.
· Regularly remove dead and dying vegetation.
· Mow grass regularly.
· Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns, and remove limbs that are within 10 feet of the ground.
· Remove dead branches that extend over the roof.
· Prune tree branches and shrubs within 10 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet.
· Remove vines from exterior walls.
When Wildfire Threatens
If you are warned that a wildfire is threatening your area follow the instructions of local officials. Remember, personal safety should always come first!
· Back you car into the garage or park it in an open area facing the direction of escape. Shut doors and roll up windows. Leave the key in the ignition. Close garage windows and doors, but leave them unlocked. Disconnect automatic garage door openers.
· Confine pets to one room. Make plans to care for your pets in case you must evacuate.
· Arrange temporary housing at a friend’s or relative’s home outside the threatened area.
If advised to evacuate, do so immediately:
· Know at least two exit routes from your neighborhood in case of emergency evacuation.
· Wear protective clothing – sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and a handkerchief to protect your face.
· Take a your Disaster Supplies Kit.
· Lock your home.
· Tell someone when you left and where you are going.
· Choose a route away from fire hazards. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of fire and smoke.
If you’re sure you have time, take the following steps to protect your home:
· Close windows, vents, doors, venetian blinds or non-combustible window coverings and heavy drapes. Remove lightweight curtains.
· Shut off gas at the meter. Turn off pilot lights.
· Open fireplace damper. Close fireplace screens.
· Move flammable furniture into the center of the home away from windows and sliding glass doors.
· Seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or commercial seals.
· Place combustible patio furniture inside.
· Connect garden hose to outside taps.
When wildfire threatens, you won’t have time to search for supplies. Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit with items you may need if advised to evacuate. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, duffel bags or trash containers. Include:
· A three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day) and food that won’t spoil.
· One change of clothing and footwear per person and one blanket or sleeping bag per person.
· A first aid kit that includes your family’s prescription medications.
· Emergency tools, including a battery-powered radio, flashlight, and plenty of extra batteries.
· An extra set of car keys and a credit card, cash or travelers checks.
· Sanitation supplies.
· Special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members.
· An extra pair of eye glasses.
· Keep important family documents in a waterproof container.
For lots of links to additional fire and safety related materials go to the FireSafe Marin resources page. Have a safe and fun Summer!