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How to Help Prepare Your Home Against the Threat of Wildfires


Wildfires are spreading across California, Washington and Oregon at an astonishing rate, leaving thousands of scorched homes and businesses in their wake.

Flying embers from wildfires can ignite and destroy homes up to one mile away. If you are not under immediate threat from a wildfire, there are steps you can take to make your home more resistant to fires.

If you live within one of California’s Responsibility Areas, the state requires you to keep a “defensible space” around your property that is clear of brush or vegetation.

“Having defensible space does make a big difference,” said Brian Centoni, the public information officer for the Fire Department in Alameda County, where the S.C.U. Lightning Complex was 95 percent contained as of Thursday afternoon.

However, you must leave your home if authorities order you to evacuate. Mr. Centoni said that when evacuation orders for the S.C.U. Lightning Complex were issued in mid-August it meant to leave home as soon as possible in order to save lives.

Home hardening, a term used to describe the process of modifying a home to make it more fire-resistant, can help protect firefighters too. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends plugging a garden hose into a water line so fire departments can have access to it. You should identify and maintain water sources like hydrants, ponds and pools and make sure they are accessible. You can also ensure that your driveway is clear for emergency vehicles and make sure your address signs are clearly visible from the road.

California has some of the strictest building codes in the nation and new homes are required to be constructed with certain fire-resistant materials. Some have taken to building homes entirely out of flameproof materials.

FEMA recommends regularly clearing your roof and gutters of dry leaves and other debris. To prevent embers from flying in, enclose or box in eaves, soffits, decks and other openings in the home’s structure; fine wire mesh can be used to cover vents, crawl spaces and the area underneath porches and decks. A defensible space around the perimeter of the house should be well-irrigated and free of brush, vegetation and other materials that could fuel a fire. Adding fuel breaks such as gravel walkways or driveways can also help.

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If you are unable to make major changes to your house or landscaping, Carrie Bilbao, a spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center, recommends conducting a quick assessment of your property and making small but critical changes such as removing flammable items — couch cushions and brooms that are stored outside.

“One thing that people do need to remember is that it’s not just an individual effort but a community effort,” Ms. Bilbao said. “You can do all you can for your own home but if your next-door neighbor doesn’t, the potential for fire to come and impact you is greater.”


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