Appendix A: Quick fixes
These are relatively inexpensive and easily carried out by the homeowner. No matter which level of hazard, these should be done immediately, not when a fire is approaching--do them now!!
Plants very close to your house (within 6 feet of your house): By far, the greatest risks to your house are plants in this “home zone.”
There are four actions that you should consider:
- Remove older, larger, or dying plants. Vigorous, smaller, and leggy plants are better.
- Maintain your plants in good condition; get rid of dead branches and dead material under the plants; make sure they are watered regularly, preferably with a drip system.
- Minimize any plants under windows, near decks, or at inside corners of your house.
- Add new plants that are "fire-safe" (that have all of the characteristics above; avoid plants with fine materials such as junipers and cedars).
Other plants and trees on your lot:
- Cut the tree branches within 6 feet of your roof (or remove the tree if necessary).
- Create islands of vegetation so that fire does not have a path to your house. Be sure that there are no large bushes under trees—their ignition could cause a crown fire of the tree.
- Minimize the depth and area of landscaping bark and mulch--this could cause smoldering of embers.
- Cut annual grasses or get them grazed before they die. Annual grasses are a major hazard in the fall when they cure, especially if you have grasses on a slope leading up to your house.
- The area within the "home zone" is especially hazardous. Do not store firewood and other burnable stuff within this zone, especially under decks, or against outside walls.
Be prepared to move barbeque propane tanks as far away from the house as possible if a fire is reported!
- Clean your gutters regularly, especially when the rainy season is over and you're less likely to think about gutter debris. Better still, cover your gutters with metal screening or other gutter covers. The screens still need to be cleaned of debris.
- Keeping your roof clear of vegetation and debris, and eliminating overhanging branches from nearby trees is the best protection you can provide for an aging roof (from a fire perspective, but this activity won’t stop it from leaking).
- Similarly, the best way to protect aging siding that may be more vulnerable to wildfire would be to more carefully maintain nearby vegetation (remove dead material, irrigate, etc.).
- Gutters are at a very vulnerable spot of a house, the intersection of eaves and the roof, and usually are in contact with combustible fascia boards. In cleaning gutters, two areas need special attention (1) upper story gutters that are difficult to reach (even with a good ladder), and (2) the portion of lower gutters that are fed by the roof covering (such as barrel-type tiles) rather than by using downspouts. In conjunction with cleaning gutters, roofs also need cleaning of debris, such as leaves. If not, those sections with gutters could be filled with debris. Keep in mind that most leaves fall in about the same period as the peak in fire weather, so that fall cleaning may have to be done several times to assure the minimum of debris.
- Look for decayed wood--this has been overlooked in many recommendations to make buildings fire safe. Some of the key places to look for decay are at the bottom corner of wooden window sills, the perimeter of decks, and any other area where water can be trapped in wood gaps or seams. If there is a small amount of decay, it can be chiseled out and the gaps filled with water-proof fillers and caulk. Larger amounts of decay might require replacement of the wooden piece.
- Make sure your chimney has an approved spark arrester. The early fall fireplace fires are also the critical time for wildfires. Sparks from your chimney can cause ignition to your neighbor's (or your) house--it doesn't always take a wildfire to cause damage!
- Add screens to windows. Metal screens provide protection to windows from radiant energy from fires and possibly some protection against wind-blown debris. While fiberglass screens can also reduce radiant energy reaching windows, they are easily melted and not strong enough for impact protection.