Message from Tami Miketa, Manager of the Small Forest Landowner Office

Tips to Help Defend Your Home from Wildfire

It is simply heartbreaking to think about all of the homes that have been lost due to the devastating wildfires that have occurred in Washington this year. On behalf of me and my staff at the Small Forest Landowner Office, our hearts go out to all the families that have experienced such devastation.

As fire danger continues to escalate, the Department of Natural Resources recently announced a statewide burn ban for all outdoor burning on DNR-protected lands that runs until September 30, 2014. More than 350,000 acres have burned in Washington this year, and more than $91 million has been spent battling those wildfires.

Below are some tips to help you defend your home from wildfire and some ideas about fire-resistant landscaping techniques that can help keep your home safe, especially if you live close to the forest or other open lands.

Steps to Defend Your Home from Wildfire

Homes built in forests should have a minimum defensible space of 100 feet. If your home sits on a steep slope, standard protective measures may not suffice. Contact your local DNR Region Office or fire department/district for additional information.

  • Rake leaves, dead limbs and twigs. Clear all flammable vegetation.
  • Remove leaves and rubbish from under structures.
  • Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns, and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground.

    Before thinning.
    Before thinning.
  • Remove dead branches that extend over the roof.
  • Prune tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet.
  • Ask the power company to clear branches from power lines.
  • Remove vines from the walls of the home.
  • Mow grass regularly.
  • Clear a 10 foot area around propane tanks and the barbecue. Place a screen over the grill – use nonflammable material with mesh no coarser than one-quarter inch.
  • Regularly dispose of newspapers and rubbish at an approved site. Follow local burning regulations.
  • Place stove, fireplace and grill ashes in a metal bucket, soak in water for 2 days; and then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil.
  • Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans. Place cans in a safe location away from the base of buildings.

    After thinning.
    After thinning.
  • Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home. Clear combustible material within 20 feet.
  • Review your homeowner’s insurance policy and also prepare/update a list of your home’s contents.

Now is also a good time to consider fire-resistant landscaping techniques that can help keep your home safe, especially if you live close to the forest or other open lands. Trees, shrubs, grasses and other vegetation provide fuel for fires. Reducing or even eliminating vegetation close to structures is a way to create defensible space against a wildfire. Fire-resistant landscaping can be both functional and beautiful. Try these tips to help keep your home safe from wildfire this year:

  • Use plants with high moisture content such as deciduous trees/shrubs nearest the buildings.
  • Trim tree branches away from buildings.
  • Keep vegetation, including the lawn low and green.
  • Limb trees at least six feet above the ground to reduce the chances that a fire on the ground will spread into tree tops – this is especially important if your property has lots of trees.
  • Keep decorative ground covers such as beauty bark away from direct contact with your home – bark and wood chip ground covers can smolder.
  • Trim back trees and shrubbery around structures so that fire crews and their vehicles will have safe access in an emergency.

If you’re designing or updating your home’s landscaping, think of ways to incorporate firebreaks (things that don’t burn) into your landscape design. A defensible space doesn’t have to be an eyesore. Some examples of firebreaks are: concrete, brick or gravel walkways, concrete flower box borders or planters, and water features, such as a pond. Even the backyard swimming pool can serve as a firebreak.

Get Firewise

In Washington, numerous communities have received national recognition for their fire prevention efforts through the Firewise Communities USA Program. Many other neighborhoods have completed a wildfire protection plan that can help save lives and property.

We can all do our part to help prevent the spread of these wildfires. For additional tips on how to reduce the risk of wildfire to your home and family, check out the Firewise Toolkit.

Eastern Washington Forest Landowner Cost Share Program

The Department of Natural Resources, in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service, are implementing a program to encourage eligible non-federal forest owners to implement practices which improve forest health and reduce the risk from wildfire and bark beetle infestation on forest lands in Eastern Washington. Non-federal owners of forestland in Eastern Washington, who own a total of no more than 5,000 forested acres within the state of Washington, are eligible to participate. For more information call 360-902-1706 or click here to submit an application online.