Summer is just around the corner, which means plenty of fun in the sun, road trips, and… brush fires. The heat, intense sunlight, and dry brush (aka “kindling”) makes the perfect combination for flames, and if you’re not careful, you could find yourself caught in the middle of a sudden wildfire. With preparation, you won’t have to worry about fires and ensure the safety of your home and family. Here are some steps to help you prepare for fire season.
1. Check your smoke detector.
Smoke detectors are one of the most important components of fire safety. When properly installed and maintained, they play a vital role in reducing death and injury from a fire, reportedly cutting the chances of death in a fire by half. Their primary job is to protect you from fires while you sleep. You should have smoke alarms on each floor level of your home and in each bedroom.
Most smoke alarm failures are caused by dead, missing, or disconnected batteries, so test your smoke detector frequently—at least once a month. If you live in an older home, consider upgrading your smoke alarm units as they generally have a reliable service life of about ten years. Remember that the test button only checks battery power, not the smoke sensor. Use a smoke detector test aerosol to determine if the sensor is in good working order.
2. Store your valuables in a safe place.
In the event that your home does catch ablaze, make sure you have all your important documents, photos, and valuables in a safe place within easy reach. If you have more stuff than you can reasonably carry out of your home, your best bet is to invest in a fireproof box or safe. These are designed to withstand the harsh flames, so that you can come back for your valuables once the flames have been quenched.
Keep in mind, however, that while fireproof safes keep the flames away from your valuables, they don’t necessarily keep out the heat. This may not be a problem for documents and jewelry, but CDs, DVDs, videotapes, hard drives, and other electronics are highly sensitive to heat and can be damaged in temperatures exceeding 180 degrees Fahrenheit. To take care of your electronics, purchase a media safe, which better insulates its contents and prevents its interiors from reaching damaging temperatures.
Make an inventory of your valuable possessions along with pictures or video, and store that inventory in a safe deposit box or keep it at a relative’s home.
3. Create a defensible space.
Defensible space refers to the buffer you create around your home that separates the building on your property from the grass, shrubs, trees, and brush surrounding it. This buffer slows or stops the spread of wildfire to keep your home from catching fire.
There are a variety of ways to create this defensible space that include:
- Removing all vegetation around your home.
- Trimming trees to keep their limbs away from each other and from your home.
- Pruning foliage near your windows.
- Cutting and mowing your lawn.
- Using fire-resistant plants in your landscaping
4. Prepare your home.
Don’t assume that your home is safe just because the wildfire seems far away. Flying embers can land on homes from up to a mile away. All it takes is one small spark to set your home ablaze. Preparing, or hardening, your home eliminates the chances of damage. Some things you can do to harden your home:
- Wood and shingle roofs pose the highest risk of destruction in a fire. Re-roof your home using metal, tile, or composite materials.
- A brushfire’s heat can actually cause windows to break before the flames even catch on your home. Large, single-paned windows are particularly susceptible. Install dual-paned windows with tempered glass. Limit the size and number of windows that face areas of vegetation.
- Store a fire extinguisher, shovel, bucket, hoe, and other tools in your garage.
- Clean out your rain gutters or use a screen to keep brush from building up. Plant debris only makes for good tinder.
- Make sure your address is visible from the main road.
5. Create a family emergency plan for fires.
Talk with your family about what should be done if the house does succumb to flames. Teach everyone how they should exit from different rooms and set a designated meeting point that is a safe distance from the house—across the street or the neighbor’s front yard. Have everyone memorize the emergency contact number.
Once you’ve hammered out the details of your fire evacuation plan, practice the plan. Have a quick fire drill that goes from smelling the smoke to gathering at the meeting place and pretending to call the fire department.
You can’t predict disasters, but preparedness is the best way to protect yourself. Good luck and stay safe.