Wildfires are foremost on many minds this week. Today, I’ve turned the Pinching Pennies article over to Art Nash, Extension Energy Specialist, to share information on protecting your home from fire:
It doesn’t take long when talking to old-timers in the Interior to realize that we have had some unusual weather recently. Last year we exited summer with the ground so saturated with water from constant rain that people were concerned about what frost would do to their property. As winter hit, fuel tanks and septic tanks were literally “squeezed” out of the ground and newly disturbed ground was “weeping” or glaciating.
This year, breakup happened early and the bright, warm days told us we were going have a dry, dry, dry summer. Though we had some nice rains in June, the weather predictions hold for dry weather into September. We’ve also had a record number of lightning strikes (50,000 from June 21-23 alone), and last month ended with just under 400 wildfires. People quickly became aware of the onslaught of fires and wanted to clear trees from around their homes. In some cases, wood cutting has been banned because of concerns about new fires starting from chainsaw use.
Many people have heard of the concept of “defensible space,” which focuses on keeping ignitable fuels away from the home. Instead of going over the measurements and requirements for this space, let’s take a look at the parts of a home most likely to catch on fire: the roof and deck. While siding and fences may be flammable, it is the horizontal (or lightly sloped) surfaces of your home that are most vulnerable to embers that may be blowing in the winds from a wildfire. Take a look at the shape of your current roof. Are there adjacent areas, such as dormers, where embers can be trapped? Do you have open eaves where the rafter tails can harbor blown embers? Do you have wooden shakes or asphalt shingles? Both, as they weather, become more vulnerable to fire.
If you are replacing your roof, consider fiberglass shingles or metal roofing for low flammability. The metal roof can easily be cooled off with a lawn sprinkler when fires approach the area.
Attics and crawlspaces should be well vented to keep air moving and control moisture throughout the year. However, be sure that the vent screening is one-eighth inch or less in grid size and that all debris is cleaned from these screens on a seasonal basis. This will keep embers from entering the attic and any leaves, needles or seeds that have blown against it from igniting. In addition, gutters should be regularly cleared of potentially flammable twigs and leaves. Protecting your roof from debris that can catch fire will keep it, and your house, safe.
The deck is another vulnerable area. You can treat that with fire-resistant stains, build it from poly-composite boards or put about a foot and a half of flashing between the deck and adjoining wall.
Finally, many people in Alaska have homes that are built off the ground on pier blocks or pad/post foundations to keep cool air circulating under the house. If the gravel pad has accumulated biomass debris, it can be particularly dangerous. Though it is difficult to crouch under the house and vacuum your gravel pad with a shop vacuum to rid it of blown leaves, branches and other debris, it is a part of good fire protection. If you are in a windy area, you may want to figure out how to stop materials from blowing under your house without restricting airflow. Remember, do not store your spare lumber or boards on the pad; it may be tinder if there is a fire. Covering floor joists/insulation with a nonflammable material provides another layer of protection.
If you are worried about wildfires, there is more that can be can be done with building materials, window design, insulation and siding materials, but first make sure those horizontal surfaces are protected.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 907-474-7201.