How to Protect Your Home from Wildfires

Wildfires are a real threat—especially in the Western US, which has endured increasingly hot and dry conditions. This year alone, there have been over 35,000 wildfires across the country. Fires in the west have been stoked by high winds and fueled by untamed, bone-dry shrubbery and trees. Regardless of whether or not your region has historically been affected by wildfires, wildfires can pop up out of nowhere when conditions are right. With this in mind, advanced planning can make the difference between a close call and total property loss.

In dry regions, wildfires have more room to spread among communities with empty lots in the vicinity. Residents who have gardens, patios, or townhomes that border open land are particularly susceptible to spreading fires. It is up to the HOA and property managers to inform residents in high-risk locations about these preventative measures.  (and make exceptions to landscaping rules, when necessary)

  1. Landscaping

Create a defensible perimeter

Create a defensible perimeter by removing or modifying flammable vegetation in favor of drought and fire resistant varieties. Prune and thin trees, and remove dead vegetation and debris within a 30-foot perimeter of the house.  Replace wood chips abutting the house with topsoil covered with gravel. The point of maintaining a perimeter is to create an area that cannot possibly ignite. Removing fuel surrounding HOA facilities and residential homes increases the odds of weathering a wildfire.

Try different plants

French Lavender, Creeping Phlox, and California Redbuds are particularly hardy alternatives to more combustible plants. Trees generally present the greatest fire hazard, since tall, overhanging branches can easily ignite residences. Palms, most conifers, and cypress trees are quick to catch fire and spread embers. If removing trees isn’t an option, keep surrounding trees trimmed and pruned—preferably less than 20 feet tall if next to a building.  See this PDF for a complete list of fire-resistant plants.

  1. Property Maintenance

Clean roofs and gutters

Airborne embers can quicken the spread of wildfires. Gutters that are clogged with leaves and other organic debris create a tinderbox. Similarly, dirty roofs can catch fire quickly—even dirt and dust can fan flames and trap flammable material. Regular gutter cleaning and pressure washing the roof can make all the difference. If the HOA allows, look into fire-safe roofing alternatives to existing wooden shakes and shingles with materials like slate, metal, or clay.

Have a preventative mindset

Most HOAs have rules governing fire prevention and mitigation. When conditions are dry, attend information sessions and make safety-oriented alterations of upgrades for the sake of the community. Personal fire equipment like sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers should be inspected regularly. Similarly, check smoke alarm batteries and have a fire escape plan to prevent tragedy from striking.

Although fires are unpredictable, proper preparation can pay off in spades if a dangerous wildfire strikes.