Pro­tect Your Home From Fires With These Coun­ter­mea­sures

RECOIL OFFGRID - - Front Page - By Scott Fi­nazzo

The num­ber of res­i­den­tial fires in the United States has steadily de­creased over the past six decades thanks to ad­vance­ments in de­tec­tion and sup­pres­sion. Still, the Na­tional Fire Pro­tec­tion Agency (NFPA) re­ports that hun­dreds of thou­sands of house fires are re­ported ev­ery year lead­ing to thou­sands of fire-re­lated deaths and in­juries. Pro­tect­ing your fam­ily and your home from fires is an of­ten over­looked, but crit­i­cal need.

Home fire pro­tec­tion most com­monly in­cludes the pur­chase and use of smoke alarms and fire ex­tin­guish­ers. These of­fer you the ca­pa­bil­ity to ex­tin­guish a small fire, if you catch it in time, or to be warned of a big­ger fire if you don’t. Those are cru­cial safety de­vices for the times a fire oc­curs in­side your home. But what if the threat comes from out­side your home? In 2017, the United States was bom­barded by wild­fires. It was a re­mark­able sea­son in many ways and all of them tragic. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NOAA) al­most 10 -mil­lion acres burned in 66,131 sep­a­rate wild­fires. In Cal­i­for­nia alone, 9,000 wild­fires rav­aged 1.2-mil­lion acres of land, de­stroy­ing over 10,000 struc­tures.

The West Coast was dev­as­tated by wild­fires, but if you live in or near a wooded area, you’re at risk as well. Even those in res­i­den­tial ar­eas aren’t im­mune. Just last year, there are sev­eral

ex­am­ples of con­fla­gra­tion. These in­clude the Kansas City sub­urb of Over­land Park, Kansas, where, due to a large apart­ment build­ing fire and high spring­time winds, a sin­gle fire reached out and dam­aged over 30 res­i­dences in a nearby neigh­bor­hood.

Pro­tect­ing your home, loved ones, and be­long­ings takes on a whole new mean­ing when in­fer­nos, burn­ing at nearly 1,500 de­grees F, rage all around. Fire lit­er­ally falls from the sky or can ap­proach like a tidal wave, ris­ing above your rooftop. In most cases this is a bat­tle you can’t win. Fire is a for­mi­da­ble en­emy un­der typ­i­cal res­i­den­tial cir­cum­stances, but when you fac­tor in the sheer vol­ume of a wild­fire, the thought of de­fend­ing your home seems hope­less.

There are sit­u­a­tions, though, where steps can be taken to in­ter­vene when your home is threat­ened by a wild­fire. One way is with the in­stal­la­tion of a res­i­den­tial sprin­kler sys­tem. Un­less it was in­stalled in the con­struc­tion phase, though, this can be very costly. There are some DIY meth­ods that can save money, but these don’t of­ten meet the aes­thetic stan­dards of most fam­i­lies.

One could ar­gue the cost ver­sus ben­e­fit of this, but for the sake of con­ver­sa­tion, let’s take a home sprin­kler sys­tem off the ta­ble and fo­cus on pro­tect­ing your home from the out­side. So what op­tions does that leave you with? Ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, there are a few pri­mary ways that you can, at the very least, hin­der the process of an im­mi­nent wild­fire.

Cre­ate a De­fen­si­ble Space

One of the least ex­pen­sive and best ways to pro­tect your home from a wild­fire is by cre­at­ing a de­fen­si­ble space. Sim­ply put, a de­fen­si­ble space is the area around your home be­tween the struc­ture it­self and vege­ta­tion and com­bustibles. Vege­ta­tion is the fuel for a wild­fire, and by cre­at­ing a space be­tween your home and the fuel, you have a nat­u­ral fire break that’ll slow the pro­gres­sion of the fire. The goal is to cre­ate enough space around your home as prac­ti­cally pos­si­ble. Some states sug­gest de­fen­si­ble space zone mod­els at 30- and 100-foot ra­diuses around your home. Most sug­gest that a min­i­mum of 30 feet be­tween struc­tures and vege­ta­tion is con­sid­ered “in­dus­try stan­dard.”

The first thing to iden­tify is the slope of your prop­erty. Fire likes to burn up­hill, mostly due to the pre­heat­ing of the ground fuel and the up-slope draft. The greater the slope away from your house, the greater de­fen­si­ble space you’ll want in that di­rec­tion. If the grade is over 30 per­cent, you’ll want at least 100 feet of de­fen­si­ble space.

The next step is to in­spect nearby shrub­bery and trees. Ex­perts aren’t say­ing that you can’t have dec­o­ra­tive land­scap­ing around your house — just choose care­fully what you put there. All plants will burn given the right con­di­tions. Choose plants that shed a min­i­mal amount of leaves or other waste. Trees should be low in resin and sap with no rough bark. If you’re un­com­fort­able iden­ti­fy­ing the right plants and trees, check with a lo­cal land­scap­ing pro­fes­sional.

It’s also a good idea to con­duct reg­u­lar main­te­nance by clear­ing the area around your home of yard waste. Some prop­erty own­ers uti­lize lawn sprin­klers to sat­u­rate the ground sur­round­ing their house prior to evac­u­a­tion. They turn them on as far in ad­vance of the fire as they can, and then leave them run­ning and safely evac­u­ate.

Trees can cre­ate what are known as “lad­der fu­els,” up­wardly grow­ing vege­ta­tion that al­lows fire to climb ver­ti­cally. To re­duce your risk of nearby trees be­com­ing lad­der fu­els, trim branches to where the low­est branches are at least 6 feet off the ground. Tree limbs should be pruned away from your house, par­tic­u­larly the rooftop and chim­ney. Ob­vi­ously the closer the tree branches are to your home, the greater the chance for a fire to reach out or jump to your house.

Pro­tect your attic by mind­ing vent open­ings and eaves. These pro­vide the per­fect gaps for em­bers to en­ter the void spa­ces in your home where small fires start and be­come big fires be­fore you even know it. En­sur­ing they’re prop­erly screened could be the safe­guard you need to keep em­bers from clan­des­tinely reach­ing your home’s in­te­rior. While you’re on the roof check­ing the screens on your chim­ney, vents, and eaves, be sure to clean out your gut­ters. An ac­cu­mu­la­tion of dead leaves around the roof perime­ter is ask­ing for trou­ble.

In­stall out­door non-com­bustible shut­ters. Heat can break win­dows and quickly ig­nite the cur­tains hang­ing just in­side of the glass. Even be­fore the glass breaks, enough heat can be trans­ferred to ig­nite fab­ric in­side the home. In­stalling non-com­bustible shut­ters that can be closed dur­ing an emer­gency pro­vides a spec­i­fied fire rat­ing (de­pend­ing on man­u­fac­turer) that can hin­der fire spread in­side your home.

Cre­at­ing a de­fen­si­ble space is a rel­a­tively easy way to keep fires away from your home as well as pro­vid­ing fire­fight­ers the space they need to get to all sides of your house and quickly ex­tin­guish a fire. A lit­tle bit of knowhow com­bined with a healthy dose of com­mon sense will pro­vide you the peace of mind of know­ing that you have taken proac­tive steps to put a po­ten­tially life-sav­ing bar­rier be­tween you and a fire.

Com­mer­cially Avail­able Foams/Gels

The use of foam in fire­fight­ing ap­pli­ca­tions has been evolv­ing since the early 1900s. It re­ally wasn’t un­til the mid 1980s that foam be­came read­ily used in wild­land fire­fight­ing, and then was brought in­side for in­te­rior sup­pres­sion op­er­a­tions. Foam pro­vides sev­eral ad­van­tages for fight­ing fires. It cools the area and pro­duces a blan­ket that de­prives oxy­gen, which ex­tin­guishes the fire. Foam also re­duces the sur­face ten­sion of wa­ter that, sim­ply put, makes wa­ter wet­ter al­low­ing it to pen­e­trate fur­ther into the fuel, im­prov­ing sat­u­ra­tion.

Foam can also be used for fire pre­ven­tion. In re­cent years, com­mer­cially avail­able foams have been uti­lized by home­own­ers as a pre­emp­tive ac­tion against wild­fires. There are now a va­ri­ety of brands that of­fer res­i­den­tial foams that can be ap­plied to the ex­te­rior of struc­tures to blan­ket them, keep­ing them cool and re­duc­ing the chance for ig­ni­tion.

Foam can be pur­chased in a va­ri­ety of quan­ti­ties from large 275-gal­lon totes to small 5-gal­lon buck­ets and can be ap­plied in an as­sort­ment of ways. There are sim­ple ap­proaches that use a stan­dard gar­den hose. More com­plex meth­ods are also avail­able that in­volve a gas-pow­ered pump, an educ­tor (which is a de­vice that uses the ven­turi ef­fect to draw foam up into a hose stream), a hose (of­ten a 1.5-inch fire hose), and a noz­zle.

For porta­bil­ity rea­sons, some peo­ple have opted to pur­chase a hand pump back­pack-style unit due to its mo­bil­ity and rapid ap­pli­ca­tion ben­e­fits. This method makes it dif fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble, to cover a large area quickly, but is more cost ef­fec­tive than some of the other, more in­volved meth­ods. If your goal is to cover and pro­tect a struc­ture, this may not be the best op­tion for you, but is a good tool for putting out spot fires or pro­tect­ing a small area that may be dif fi­cult to reach.

Once ap­plied, foams ab­sorbs into the ma­te­rial and can re­main ac­tive be­tween eight and 16 hours. The ben­e­fit of us­ing foam is that most com­mer­cially avail­able foam is ap­proved by the EPA and is biodegrad­able. As a gen­eral rule, foam doesn’t stain, dam­age, or kill vege­ta­tion. There’s lit­tle or no clean up af­ter use.

There are a va­ri­ety of fire-re­tar­dant gels also avail­able and, while they’re safe to use in the same fire sup­pres­sion

and pre­ven­tion meth­ods as foam, gel can be messy and ex­pen­sive to cleanup. The shelf life alone of­ten de­ters many home­own­ers. Gel shelf life is typ­i­cally three to five years. By com­par­i­son, foam shelf life is of­ten over 20 years. The ef­fec­tive­ness of gels can be less than foam and, there­fore, aren’t of­ten fa­vored.

Pool Pumps

An­other way to sat­u­rate the ex­te­rior of your home as a fire-pre­ven­tion tac­tic or to put out ex­te­rior fires is the use of swim­ming pool wa­ter. Some com­pa­nies of­fer an at­tach­ment that comes di­rectly off of your swim­ming pool pump that mir­rors the setup of a fire truck: a wa­ter sup­ply, a pump, and a fire hose. You can DIY a sys­tem or, for around $600, you can pur­chase a kit that in­cludes the parts needed for at­tach­ment to the pool pump, 100 feet of fire of fire hose, noz­zle, and a hose reel to store it. Keep in mind that many pumps are re­liant on elec­tric­ity be­ing avail­able to run, but un­til the elec­tric­ity is no longer avail­able, it’s an ef­fec­tive and safe tac­tic. Gas-pow­ered pumps are also avail­able.

If you have a swim­ming pool, pond, or Jacuzzi, an­other sys­tem that can be used is a float­ing gas-pow­ered pump sys­tem. They work just as any wa­ter pump would and come with the same fire hose and noz­zle, but of­fer the ad­van­tage of float­ing on the sur­face of wa­ter. These pumps can typ­i­cally flow up to 265 gal­lons per minute, which is a very suf­fi­cient flow rate for wet­ting down your house and prop­erty.

There are also com­pa­nies that make plas­tic and steel wa­ter tanks that can be in­stalled if your prop­erty will sup­port some­thing of that size. Ca­pac­ity typ­i­cally ranges from 2,000 to 5,500 gal­lons. Free-stand­ing, por­ta­ble wa­ter tanks can also be set up as a wa­ter source with enough no­tice. They op­er­ate much like a kid­die pool and can be in­flated and filled with wa­ter to com­bat an ap­proach­ing blaze.


Pro­tect­ing your home from fire, par­tic­u­larly if you live in a high-risk area, should go be­yond the stan­dard smoke alarms and fire ex­tin­guish­ers. Any­one who has been af fected by a wild­fire will tell you that they’re swift, vo­ra­cious, and dev­as­tat­ing. Clear the area around your home cre­at­ing a de­fen­si­ble space and then uti­lize your avail­able bud­get and cre­ativ­ity to en­sure you can take the needed steps to pro­tect your home, prop­erty, and most im­por­tantly, your loved ones.



Be­low, right: No one looks for­ward to clean­ing rain gut­ters, but dry leaves and de­bris are fuel that could eas­ily ig­nite if they are al­lowed to build up. Clean your rain gut­ters reg­u­larly.


Be­low, left:Attic vents are of­ten the flash­point for ig­ni­tion as em­bers make their way through open­ings. Make sure to in­stall fire­proof mesh screens to re­duce the chances of a sur­round­ing fire be­ing able to work its way into your home.


Com­mer­cially avail­able foams have a long shelf life, and there are many ap­pli­ca­tors avail­able that can be used to mit­i­gate the on­set of a fire.­t­fi­

If you have a pool, spa, or nearby pond, a pump, such as this model from JJS Fire Sup­ply, can be used to sat­u­rate your home and stave off a fire un­til help ar­rives.

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