Will Your Home Survive?

Fire-proofing your suburban home

It’s in the headlines every summer: The number of homes built — and burned — at the wildland-urban interface is mushrooming. If you live on the interface, don’t count on the fire department showing up. Safety-conscious fire departments across the country are changing their policies, and will no longer risk fire-fighter lives to protect mere property in these conflagrations. The survival of your house is utterly dependent on the steps you take to protect it.

This is a short (56-pg.) booklet that provides a complete overview of how to make your home more survivable in a wildfire. It covers the same material as many brochures published by fire departments on the same subject, but covers the subject in just enough additional detail to make it worth the $8 price tag. Important details not covered elsewhere from the theoretical (e.g., a detailed but not overly technical assessment of different terrain types and their effect on firs burn rates) to the practical (e.g., be sure to leave a ladder leaning against your roof when you evacuate – it might encourage firefighters to stop and save your house.)

Above all, the book has a refreshing and welcome bluntness that begins right on the cover — two house photos, one labeled ‘winner’ and the second labeled ‘loser’ In an actual wildfire situation, fire crews will be making exactly the same snap decisions as they drive down a row of houses and decide which to save and which to sacrifice, so this is a good mindset for any homeowner to adopt.

The book thoroughly covers the basics of all aspects of passive fire protection, from vegetation clearances, to construction details and even evacuation practicalities. It doesn’t cover active measures such as pool fire pumps and stand-and-defend tactics. But this is just as well: such steps are at best risky and should not be undertaken without a level of planning and commitment (and perhaps sheer crazedness) that is beyond the scope of a short book.

-- Paul Saffo 01/22/04


Prepare the house to withstand the wildfire by closing all doors and windows, closing mini-blinds and heavy drapes, and removing lightweight curtains. Turn on the lawn sprinklers and the roof sprinklers, if you have them. Fill the bathtub and sink with water you can use to try to extinguish spot fires on/in the house if the water system fails. Shut off the heater/air conditioner to avoid drawing more smoke into the house. Turn on the porch light so that firefighters can see your house through the smoke.

However spectacular the view, don't build your home at the topo of a steep, fuel covered slope. Setting the structure back from the slope will allow most of the heat, flames and firebrands to go over the house rather than contact it.

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