Protecting Your Home from Wildfire

Are You and Your Home Ready for a Wildfire?

With dryer Winters and very little rains in the Southwestern United States wildfires are occurring more often. Whether they are started by human factors or good old Mother Nature, they are part of a natural cycle that helps to maintain the health of our forest. 
Today, more than ever, people are moving into remote areas to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, but they are not addressing the dangers that exist in these areas.
When homes blend together with the wildland, a tremendous wildfire danger can exist. This creates the Wildland/Urban Interface (WUI). It is the addition of homes in this area that interrupts the natural cycle of wildfires. Ultimately, this contributes to a dangerous build-up of old vegetation which can contribute to an uncontrollable wildfire.
The threat of wildland fires are already at the extreme this year. We are experiencing Energy Release Component (ERC) percentages that we would normally not see until July.
As a homeowner, or potential homeowner in the Wildland/Urban Interface you can take a proactive approach to making your home and property a more Firewise environment.

What You Can Do

Lean:

Prune shrubs and cut back tree branches, especially within 15 ft of your chimney.


Clean:

Remove all dead plant material from around your home; this includes dead leaves, dry vegetation and even stacked firewood. Prune large trees 6 to 10 ft high to prevent ground fires from spreading to tree tops.


Green:

Plant fire-resistant vegetation  that is healthy and green throughout the year. For more information on creating a Firewise Landscape review the Firewise Landscape Checklist  (pdf).

Fire Resistant Construction:

Brick, cement, plaster, stucco and concrete masonry resist heat and flames. Tempered and double pane glass windows can also make a home more resistant to the heat and flames of a wildfire.
Class A asphalt shingles, metal, tile and concrete roofing is also good protection for your home. A fire-resistant sub-roof can add an extra layer of protection.
Attachments to your home such as decks, porches or fences that are not made of a fire resistant material can start on fire and spread to the rest of your home
For more information on creating a Firewise Construction review the Firewise Construction Checklist (pdf).

Have a Disaster Plan:

The time to plan for an emergency is before the emergency happens. Take a few minutes to discuss with your family what actions you will take.

Emergency Access:

Identify your home and neighborhood with legible and clearly marked street names and numbers so response vehicles can rapidly find the location of the emergency. Include a driveway that is at least 14 ft wide with a vertical clearance of 13 ft 6 in (per 1997 UFC, section 902.2.2.1) to provide access for emergency apparatus.

The Fire Environment

("Living With Fire: A Guide for the Homeowner")

Also known as the surrounding conditions, influences, and modifying forces that determine wildfire behavior. There are three components of the Fire Environment that Firefighters recognize: 1) weather; 2) topography; and 3) fuel. Each of these components affect the possibility of a fire starting, the speed and direction a wildfire will travel, the intensity at which a wildfire burns and the ability to control and extinguish a wildfire. Although weather and topography cannot be changed, the fuels (vegetation) can be. Therefore, many of our opportunities to reduce wildfire threat lie in the proper management and manipulation of wildland vegetation.

Weather:

Dry, hot, and windy weather increases the likelihood of a major wildfire. These conditions make ignition easier, allow fuels to burn more rapidly, and increase fire intensity. Keep in mind that high wind speeds can transform a small, easily controllable fire into a catastrophic event in a matter of minutes.

Topography:

Steepness of a slope most influences fire behavior. As the steepness of a slope increases, the fire spreads more quickly. Other important topographic factors include: aspect and steep, narrow drainages.

 

Fuel:

Fuel is required for any fire to burn. In relation to wildfires, fuels almost always consist of living vegetation (trees, grass, shrubs, and wildflowers) along with dead plant material. Houses, when involved in a wildfire, become a source of fuel. The amount, size, moisture content, arrangement and other fuel characteristics can influence ease of ignition, rate of fire spread, length of flames produced and other fire behaviors.

 

The Human Environment

("LivingWithFire: A Guide for the Homeowner")

When people are living in high-hazard fire environments, the human-built environment becomes an important factor in predicting the loss of life and property. Untreated wood shake and shingle roofs, narrow roads, limited access, lack of fire-wise landscaping, inadequate water supplies, and poorly planned subdivisions increase the risk to people living with the threat of wildfire.

 

Santa Fe County Urban Wildland Interface Code

The purpose of the Urban Wildland Interface Code is to mitigate the threat to life and property from the intrusion of wildland fires exposures, fire exposures from adjacent structures, and prevention of structure fires from spreading to wildland fuels. You can find out if you live in a designated Urban Wildland area by visiting the Santa Fe County GIS mapping website.

Santa Fe County Vegetation Management Plan

Vegetation management plans shall be submitted to the Sante Fe County Fire Marshal's Office for review and approval as required by either Santa Fe County Ordinance 2001-11 or Extraterritorial Zoning Authority Ordinance 2001-04.

These plans shall describe all actions that will be taken to prevent a fire from being carried toward or away from structures. These plans must be submitted to the Fire Marshal's office and approved and recorded in the covenants of the subdivision and on the plat prior to final approval from the Fire Marshal.

Vegetation management plans shall include, at a minimum, the following information:

  • A copy of the site plan.
  • Methods and timetables for controlling, changing or modifying areas on the property. Elements of the plan shall include removal of slash, snags, dead and/or vegetation, vegetation that may grow into or provide a hazard to overhead electrical lines, removal of ground fuels including forest litter, ladder fuels and the thinning and arrangement of live trees and planting of fire-resistive vegetation.
  • A plan for maintaining these fuel reduction/management measures via the subdivision covenants throughout the existence of the subdivision.

The vegetation management plan shall also include the following values as they relate to the subdivision and shall consider the overriding requirement that the plan shall improve the overall health of the area ecosystem:

  • Fire risk reduction
  • Aesthetic consideration
  • Functional aspects of the vegetation/environment
  • Cultural/Spiritual aspects

Community Fuel Reduction "Chipper Day" Prerequisites

  • Participating entity must be an established association/organization (neighborhood or homeowners' association, water or acequia group, planning committee, neighborhood watch organization, etc.).
  • The requesting organization must participate in a training/information meeting presented by Santa Fe County Fire Department (SFCFD).
  • The requesting organization must identify key contacts and decision makers for communications/ liaison with SFCFD and or event planning/coordination.
  • The community event plan must be developed and approved by SFCFD.
  • The community must participate in a field training day to ensure proper fuel treatment, ecosystem management and Firewise principles are employed.
  • The fuels treated by the community and chipped by SFCFD shall:
    • Improve the survivability of the residence and other structural values involving Firewise and defensible space models (general treatment of pinon beetle mortality uels outside of the structural values will not be included as part of this program.)
    • The chipped biomass must remain in the community and be utilized (not stored) in the community.

 

For additional information, please contact Mike Feulner, SFCFD Wildland Coordinator at 995-6523 or mfeulner@santafecountynm.gov.

Other Resources

Santa Fe County Wildland Divison Project Site: www.sfcfire-wildland.com

Santa Fe Pinon Initiative:    www.santafetrees.com

Firewise:  www.firewise.org

New Mexico State University: www.cahe.nmsu.edu/defensible_zone/welcome.html 

Living with Drought, Fire and Bark Beetle Publication (PDF)

Defensible Space Guide (fromUSDA):  It Could Happen to You