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Smart Tips For Making Your Home Fire Safe

Nov 3, 2007
As the fires in southern California wind down, the process of rebuilding lives and properties begins. One thing that all those affected by the recent firestorm probably have in common, and something we share as well, is the thought that something like this happens to others - not to me. Unfortunately, it does happen - usually when you least expect it. Sometimes despite our best efforts, there is nothing that can be done; fire can be fickle. There are, however, measures that each of us can take to be prepared and things we can do to protect our homes.

Whether you live in a rural area or a populated area surrounded by open spaces as we have here in Marin County, you are vulnerable to wildland fire. Take a look around your property. Make your home as fire-safe as possible, and know what to do in case your neighborhood is evacuated.


Begin with the easiest and least expensive measures, and begin work close to the house and work outward. Bear in mind that the two primary factors in protecting your home are your choice in roofing material and maintaining a defensible zone.

Create a defensible space This is your most important defense against wildfire. It is recommended that you clear 100 feet around the perimeter of your home or to your property line, whichever is nearest.

Remove dead vegetation This includes dry grass, leaves, and tree branches. Don't forget to check roofs and gutters, and be sure to clear spaces under decks and porches.

Thin live vegetation Don't plant things too close together. By breaking up continuous masses of shrubs and other plants, you can help interrupt a fire's path. Keep trees and shrubs at least 10 feet apart.

Maintain proper clearance Your house isn't the only thing that needs a clearance. Keep propane tanks, woodpiles, and stacks of construction materials at least 30 feet from any structures, and maintain a minimum of a 10-foot clearance.

Use fire resistive plants Talk to your local nursery about landscaping with plants that have low flammability. Be aware that many native plants are highly combustible. Select plants that grow close to the ground and have low sap or resin. If possible, keep and irrigated greenbelt immediately around the house. Alternatively use rock or other non-combustible material.

Build/remodel with fire resistant materials

Your roof is particularly vulnerable to blowing embers. Speak with your local fire department or building department about recommended fire-safe roofing materials. Acceptable roofing material ranges from Class A fire-resistance rating, which provides the greatest protection, to Class C, which indicates the roof can withstand light exposure to fire. Asphalt shingles, slate, clay tile, and metal offer the best protection.

Use fire-resistive siding. Siding should be Class III or better; stone, brick, and stucco are best.

Cover exterior attic, soffit, and under floor vents with metal wire mesh, no larger than 1/8 inch. In the event of fire, this will help to keep sparks from entering your home.

Cover chimneys and stovepipes with nonflammable inch screening.

Provide good access to your home Firefighting personnel must be able to gain access to your property. The way in should be open enough for emergency equipment. Your house address must be clearly posted.

Assure a source of water This is particularly important for rural addresses and those on a well. The most effective way to do this is to have a large storage tank on the property. Keep a rolled up garden hose attached to an outside connection available.


It is possible that, despite all your precautions, a wildfire will threaten your neighborhood. Knowing what to do can literally make the difference in your ability to survive. You may not have time to take all the measures mentioned below. Just do what you can. Use common sense if you stay with your home. If asked to evacuate, do so immediately.

Fill your car with gas and back it into the garage or park it in the open facing the direction of escape. Gather heirlooms, pictures, and other treasures and put them in the car along with blankets and water.

Evacuate children, the elderly, and the disabled Move people who would have difficulty protecting themselves to a safety before it becomes an emergency.

Confine pets to one room Make plans for the care of your pets should you need to evacuate. Have carriers for your pets ready, even the most docile animal can be difficult to manage when frightened.

Listen to TV or the radio for evacuation information

Prepare the house

Remove flammable materials such as lounge cushions and wooden furniture from the yard. Move the gas grill away from the house.

Water down the vegetation surrounding your house.

Close all windows and doors. Move furniture, draperies, and combustible items away from the windows. Windows can shatter from heat from an approaching fire.

Shut off the main gas/propane line to the house.

If you evacuate wear protective clothing - long pants, sturdy shoes, and a long-sleeved shirt. Notify a friend or family member that you are leaving, lock your door, and carefully drive to safety. Once you are safe, let the friend or family member you notified earlier know where you are.


Returning to your neighborhood may be traumatic. Whether you have lost your home or it has been spared, there will be things to do.

Do not return until authorities say it is safe

Watch for hazards You may encounter fallen trees or power lines, hot spots, or damaged roads. Be aware and use common sense.

Check you house Check every space in the house for smoke or embers. This includes the roof, attic, all closets, and each room.

Contact your insurance company Even if your home has been spared, you may have smoke or other types of damage.

Check to see if your neighbors need help Of course, this goes without saying, but I'll mention it anyway. Once you know you're O.K., see what you can do to help others.

Don't make the mistake of thinking a fire could never happen to you. Hope for the best, but be prepared. Remember that your two best defenses are a defensible space and a roof with a good fire rating. Fire is unpredictable and if there is a weakness in your defense, fire will find it.
About the Author
Renee Adelmann is a Northern California real estate professional who specializes in Marin real estate. Visit her website to learn more about Marin County CA and search the Marin MLS.
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