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Make Preparing for Wildfire a Community Effort

April 20, 2021

Reducing the risk a wildfire will damage your home or business can also help you connect with your neighbors and even have some fun. That’s the goal of Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, which is happening Saturday, May 1.

The day, organized by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), is a rallying day where communities can kick off their wildfire preparations for the year, said Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan, program specialist at the NFPA.

Everyone who lives in a wildfire-prone area has a role to play in reducing risk, she added.

“Post-fire assessments often show that it’s embers that ignite homes,” she said. Embers, also called firebrands, can travel up to a mile during a wildfire,1 igniting combustible materials on or around a home, or entering a home through windows or vents and igniting the home.

In addition, when structures ignite during a wildfire, firefighters may not be able to devote resources to saving those buildings. In short, during wildfires what happens on one property can quickly affect others nearby.

Wildfire smoke blankets a communityFirefighters may not be able to devote resources to saving your home during a wildfire.
Prepare your home to help improve the chances it will withstand a wildfire.

 

Related:
Embers, Wind and Fire: A Dangerous Mix

 

Join with neighbors to reduce wildfire risk

Wildfire Community Preparedness Day aims to encourage people living in wildfire-prone areas to take some of the many proactive, science-based steps that help reduce wildfire risk. In some places, a group of neighbors get together and lead the day; in others, a city council, faith-based group, homeowners association or other local organization takes on the leadership role.

The NFPA provides several resources to help anyone leading or participating in a community effort, all available on its website. There’s an announcement flyer and toolkit that guides participants through the day, from planning to completing a project.

Fitzgerald-McGowan offers several tips for making your community’s day successful.

  • Encourage people to plan projects they can accomplish. Wildfire preparedness is an ongoing process, and Wildfire Community Preparedness Day is a starting point, not the entire journey.
  • Break large, important tasks into small pieces. Yes, managing your home and the entire Home Ignition Zone (see below) around it is important, but if you address just part of that area on May 1, you’ve helped make your home safer. Tackle the next part of that area the following Saturday and so on to make wildfire preparedness a habit.
  • Remember that there are many different useful actions people can take. Some residents will be ready and able to take on landscaping projects. Others will be prepared to do home assessments or home inventories.
  • Leverage social media and foster friendly competition. The NFPA has set up the #WildFirePrepDay hashtag you can use to share what you and your neighbors are working on with people throughout the country and foster citizen pride.

Collaborating while social distancing

The toolkit also emphasizes the importance of taking safety measures, such as avoiding bees, snakes and slippery surfaces and lifting carefully.

This year, masks and social distancing are additional safety considerations. At past preparedness days, many communities have worked hard during the day and celebrated with a barbeque in the afternoon, said Fitzgerald-McGowan. This year, she suggests an online community celebration where everyone shares about individual projects and describes what they’ll do next.

The Home Ignition ZoneYour home and the area around it play key roles in whether your home will withstand a wildfire.
Image of the Home Ignition Zone courtesy of the NFPA. 

 

Related:
How Homeowners Can Help Protect Their Homes from Wildfire

 

How to protect your home from wildfire damage

The most important first step to reducing the risk a wildfire will harm your home is to understand the Home Ignition Zone, which encompasses your home and the area 100 feet around it. What’s in that area has a major impact on whether your home can withstand a wildfire, Fitzgerald-McGowan said.

The NFPA breaks the zone down into three parts: from zero to five feet, from five to 30 feet and from 30 to 100 feet. If you look around your home and see a neighbor’s home, or perhaps multiple neighbors’ homes, within the Home Ignition Zone, you begin to see the importance of community-based efforts in reducing wildfire risk.

Even if there are no other homes near yours, it’s important to address your home and each part of the Home Ignition Zone. After all, an ember from a mile away could ignite your home, causing a fire that releases embers that ignite a home a mile away.

For specific steps to take within each part of the zone, visit the NFPA’s website, which includes a checklist and downloadable brochure.


[1] Michigan State University, https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/knowing_about_fire_behavior_can_protect_your_home_from_wildfire

Robert Ferrell, P.E. is WSRB’s Vice President of Public Protection. He leads the team that manages the insurance rating of cities, fire districts and building departments throughout Washington state. He has more than 25 years of experience in fire insurance rating.

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