From the types of windows that you have to what types of plants are outside your doorstep, seemingly minor things can expose your house to wildfires.
In many instances, a home catches fire due to an ember that floated in the breeze from a fire miles away. "People assume a wall of flames will devour the whole house, but homes burn down from embers getting into the house," says Michele Steinberg, division manager for wildland fire at the (NFPA). Make sure your home doesn't have any cracks or crevices where embers can sneak in. This usually occurs on the roof if shingles or tiles are loose or missing, or if gaps or openings on roof edges haven't been caulked.
Gutters collect water, but they collect plenty of flammable gunk, too. "People forget about cleaning out gutters, but it's really important during fire season," says Carrie Bonney, director of media relations at . "Anything in those gutters that catches on fire is going to catch your rafters on fire too, and then it'll spread right into the house."
Not only do un-screened vents increase the chance of wildlife scurrying into your home (eek), but they can also welcome embers inside. "Screened vents won't completely stop embers, but it will minimize the likelihood that they can get in," says Steinberg. "If there is a fire nearby, never leave the vents open."
It's common for fallen pine needles and other debris to collect on the roof and around the house. They may seem innocent enough, but these needles can increase the risk of embers igniting your home, says the NFPA.
Yes, it's not the most fun chore in the world. But it's an important one if you want to keep your house safe. Roof inspections can identify any damage in roofing materials or your chimney. This way, you'll know if you need to, say, repair a crack to guard against embers, according to . Plus, overall, it's helpful to know how much life is left on your roof.
A double pane window has (surprise!) double window panes that are separated to reduce heat moving across it. Because of this, they may be less likely to break during a fire (which can lead to the entire house being engulfed quickly). "If the flames did burn up to the outside of your house, you wouldn't want windows to break because of the heat, which would let embers in," says Steinberg. "Use double pane protection whenever possible."
If a wildfire is in your area, it's time to take action, pronto. That means removing all patio furniture, which could easily set on fire. "Get furniture or mats off your patio," says Steinberg. "If you have, say, a rattan mat, it'll burn really well until it sets the porch or siding on fire. Items like that are ember collectors."
"Wood mulch is flammable, but a lot of people pile it up right against the side of the house," says Steinberg. "Post-fire investigations have found this is why a lot of homes burn down. Stones or gravel are much safer." The NFPA suggests keeping mulch more than 30 feet away from your house, and to keep plants carefully spaced apart and limited to low flammability species (read on for what those are).
Sure, most plants are flammable, but some are more so than others. The most flammable plants tend to contain sap or resin, such as spotted gum and Japanese maple. Plants include the hydrangea, day lily, lilac, mulberry and African tulip tree.
Planning a new deck for your house? Choose your material wisely, says Bonney. "Obviously wood will burn very easily, so you want to get something that's less flammable since this is something that's going to attach to your house." Consider , such as composites or aluminum (yes, that exists).
It's best to keep gasoline stored as far away from your house as possible, such as in a separate shed. If your garage starts on fire and causes a gasoline explosion, the flames will move to the rest of your house quickly. Another , even if you don't have a separate shed: Keep gasoline at least 50 feet away from ignition sources, such as the heat from a water heater or furnace.
Ironically, California has experienced a very active fire year because it's had more rain than in past years, says Bonney. "Because of that, we've had a lot of vegetation growing," she says. "Once it started drying up again because the rain stopped, it just started acting as fuel for fires." Make sure you immediately clean up any dead plants in your yard. Another solution: Opt for potted plants you can easily move away from the house if needed.
Check to see — this will tell you how flammable it is. Here's the breakdown: Class A roof coverings are effective against severe fire test exposures, Class B roof coverings are effective against moderate fire test exposures and Class C roof coverings are only effective against light fire test exposures. If your roof isn't Class A, you may want to consider replacing it with , such as concrete or clay roof tiles, depending on the fire risk in your area.
You know you have insurance that covers fire damage, but what exactly does that mean? "I work in insurance so I understand the process, but 13 years ago when I started, I did't know anything about even my own insurance companies, and that's not uncommon," says Bonney. "Sit down with your agent and ask them exactly what you need to prepare for, what steps you would need to take if there was a fire and what your policy pays for." Sure, this tip won't prevent a fire, but it will certainly make the aftermath less stressful if one does occur.
Another tip to help you be prepared in case fire strikes: Document everything in your house, particularly the high-value items. "Go through your house and take pictures of the serial numbers of large items that you have, like your TV and stereo systems," says Bonney. "One of the biggest stressors for people who have experienced a fire is thinking about all the contents of their house they have to replace. But it's something you need to be prepared for to make an insurance claim."