Published by Kristin Babbs
May 7, 2018
SALEM, Ore. — May is the perfect time to create a circle of safety around your home to protect it from wildfire. That’s one reason May is Oregon Wildfire Awareness Month. All month long the Oregon Department of Forestry, Keep Oregon Green Association, the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal and fire educators statewide are spreading the word on ways to prevent human-caused wildfires and protect a home in case a fire encroaches.
Kristin Babbs, president of Keep Oregon Green, said, “In a large wildfire, firefighters may not have the resources to defend every house. Just as you lock the doors to keep your home and family safe, think of creating a fuel-free defensible space. This ‘circle of safety,’ around your home can reduce fire danger and provide safe access to firefighters so they can protect it,” said Babbs.
According to National Fire Plan Coordinator Jenna Nelson at the Oregon Department of Forestry, besides the fire itself, hot embers are the biggest risk to homes. “They can fly through the air a mile or more ahead of the actual flame front,” said Nelson. “When these embers land, in a matter of minutes they can ignite leaves, needles and debris that have built up on roofs, against the home or under decks. In the same brief time they can cause flammable landscape plants to begin burning and catch a house on fire.”
Nelson said that in some instances, small embers may smolder and combine long after the fire has passed by, creeping into the wooden framing under a roof before bursting into open flames and burning down the house.
“You can’t control where these embers land, but you can control what happens when they do. Preparedness is key,” Nelson said.
To create a circle of safety around your property, start with the house and the first 30 feet extending from the outermost part of the structure, including detached garages and sheds. The roof is the most vulnerable part. Regularly clear leaves and needles from the roof and gutters, and cut back any overhanging tree limbs.
Landscaping should consist of low-growing, fire-resistant plants that are spaced carefully so as not to provide fuel close to a structure. Rake leaves and debris from the yard, mow grass, and prune trees six to 10 feet up from the ground. Keep plants well-watered to prevent a surface fire from climbing into the tree crowns and carrying flames to the house. Properly placed healthy deciduous trees can actually protect a home by blocking a wildfire’s intense heat. Avoid highly flammable species, such as pine, juniper and madrone. Spaces free of fuel, such as driveways, gravel walkways and green lawns can halt the advance of a fire.
In the zone 100 to 200 feet from the home, trees may need to be thinned, though less intensively than those closer in, so that canopies are not touching.
Babbs said it is not inevitable that a wildfire will consume everything in its path. The more defensible space a homeowner creates before fire season, the better a home’s chances of surviving a wildfire.
“It’s peace of mind knowing that if you leave your home for a stretch of time this summer, it will still be standing when you return,” she said.
Other Wildfire Awareness Month tips coming soon:
During May also watch for fire prevention tips on backyard debris burning and campfires.