PROTECT YOUR HOME FROM FIRE THIS SUMMER
In 2021, local fire departments responded to an estimated 1.35 MILLION fires in the USA
which caused 3,800 civilian fire deaths and 14,700 reported civilian fire injuries according to the
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The property damage caused by these fires was
estimated at $15.9 BILLION.
The old country gospel song warns of the world’s ending, “…won’t be water, but fire
next time.” In the case of California, both raging elements have an impact on the Golden State:
record-breaking winter rains triggered equally record-breaking greenery, but guess what? Now
it’s triple digits all over the state (and almost everywhere else) and what was once green is now
parched, crisp kindling. Excess dry brush in 2023 means bad news for homeowners in fire-prone
areas across the USA.
Michael Choi of Mariposa, CA co-owns of Fire Grazers, Inc. with his brothers, a family
business they acquired from their father in 2012. The actual Fire Grazers are sturdy, 100-pound
Boer goats that Choi employs for fire brush management. Simply, the goats munch through
acres of invasive black mustard and star thistle, even cactus and poison oak, removing
hazardous weeds that easily serve as fuel.
“I expect a lot of wildfires in California in the next month,” says Choi whose goats were
recently put into service by the Glendale, California Fire Department. Even professional human
brush crews using wood-chippers and other power tools can’t match the goats for efficiency
and speed. “Goats can get up into nooks and crannies, hillsides, canyons, steep slopes and all
kinds of hard-to-access terrain,” says Choi who recently had to rent an extra 200 goats to supplement his usual herd-- called a “trip” -- of 700 Boers to meet the current demand. “Goats
are also beneficial for property owners, because in addition to removing dangerous brush, their
hooves compact the sandy soil which combats erosion, and of course they leave behind plenty
of organic compost. They’re always hungry, so they’re always motivated. They leave the land in
better shape than they found it.”
Okay, maybe you aren’t up for hiring a caprine “trip” (yes, that’s what a bunch of goats
are called!) to keep the vegetation around your home safely trimmed. Still, dry brush is a major
fire hazard not only in the Sunbelt and Southwest, but in more and more of the USA as global
warming escalates (witness humid, rainy Maui). Step one, install fire detectors and make sure
the batteries are fresh. Here are more tips, and please check with your local fire department for
CREATE “DEFENSIBLE SPACE.” This refers to the crucial buffer that homeowners need t0 maintain on their property between a structure and plants, brush and trees surrounding the structure. Maintaining this space slows the spread of fire and creates a safer space for firefighters who might be called in to fight a blaze. The basic rule of thumb is to create a defensible space of 100 feet around your home, and remove all dead plants, grass, weeds, dry leaves, and pine needles from that area. Debris also needs to be removed from your roof and rain gutters. Be sure to store firewood at least 30 feet from your home or any structure. Also be sure to cut back vegetation along access roads and driveways so that emergency vehicles can easily enter the premises. Dispose of the cut vegetation promptly (don’t leave it on your property).
“HARDEN” YOUR HOME. This means building with non-flammable materials and replacing flammable materials with fireproof alternatives:
Roof: The roof is the most vulnerable part of your home. Homes with wood or shingle roofs are at high risk of being destroyed during a wildfire. Advice from fire departments everywhere: build your roof or re-roof with materials such as composition, metal, or tile. Block any spaces between roof decking and covering to prevent sparks and embers from catching.
Vents: Cover all vent openings with 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch METAL mesh. Do not use fiberglass or plastic mesh -- these can melt and burn! Protect vents in eaves or cornices with baffles to block stray sparks and embers (mesh is not enough!).
Windows: Heat from a fire can cause windows to break even before the home itself is on fire. Single-paned and large windows are especially vulnerable. Install dual-paned windows with one pane of tempered glass to reduce risk of breakage. When building, design smaller, fewer windows that face large expanses of vegetation.
Walls, decks, patio-covers, and fences should be built or replaced with ignition-proof materials treated with flame-retardants.
Get your emergency gear prepped and handy. Have a fire extinguisher, shovel, rake and
bucket within easy reach. Purchase multiple garden hoses that are long enough to reach
all areas of your home and other structures on the property. If you have a pool or well,
purchase a pump which will enable you and firefighters to utilize that water supply
during a fire.
Make an emergency exit plan with your family. Discuss what each of you will do in the
event of a fire. Review this frequently with children. Figure out where you will meet
(local public school, community center, church) if members of the family aren’t in the
house in the event of a fire. Have a pet carrier organized for each small pet in your
home, and place a “Rescue Pets Inside” sticker on windows of your home. Organize a
few critical documents (passports, drivers license photocopies, birth certificates,
banking information, credit cards), phone chargers and adaptors, extra car keys, and a
fresh stack of cash currency in a metal strongbox. Keep it where you can literally grab it
on the run.