Tips for wildfire preparation in the fall

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    By Bill Trimarco
    Wildfire Adapted Partnership

    We are all grateful that we had a decent monsoon season this summer, but much of southwestern Colorado is still in severe drought conditions. As things continue to dry out and the grasses season and turn brown, we may see wildfires again before the snow flies. 

    Over the last few years, we have been seeing wildfires start and burn later into the fall and earlier in the spring. That firewood pile on the deck or next to the house “just for the winter” is not such a good idea anymore. 

    Most of our local forests have not seen a significant wildfire for over 100 years. That is a lot of time for unchecked growth of potential fuel. Without fire to thin the trees and underbrush, that excessive growth is so close together and reaching from the ground to the tree crowns that huge fires have become the norm. There is no way of predicting how many fires we will have or whether or not one will directly impact our community, but we do have a responsibility to ourselves, our families and our neighbors to make preparations for the inevitable. 

    Most of the homes lost to wildfire are never directly touched by the flames. No, you did not misread that. Over 80 percent of the structure loss is caused by the blizzard of embers that blow ahead of the fire, starting spot fires outside of the area that is burning. Those embers can travel over a mile. All it takes is one ember landing on some kindling and you can have a new fire start. If those embers enter your house or find some kindling on or near your house, there is a good chance that your house will catch fire, too. 

    Here are some tips for fall preparations:

    • Move firewood piles at least 30 feet away from structures.

    • Make sure there is nothing combustible within 5 feet of the house.

    • Clean the leaves and pine needles off of the roof.

    • Clean the eavestroughs.

    • Make sure all attic and soffit vents have 1/8-inch metal screening.

    • Chimneys should have spark arrestors. 

    • Repair any holes or gaps in the siding.

    • Crawl space vents need 1/8-inch metal screening.

    • Rake up leaves and needles within 10 feet of the structure.

    • Remove all combustibles on, under or near wooden decks.

    • Install metal screening under the deck to keep critters out.

    • Maintain decks and stairs. Dried-out wood is more flammable than oil-stained or painted wood.

    • Use noncombustible fencing within 5 feet of the house. (If you cannot do that, then clear the combustibles from either side of the fence for its entire length.)

    • Remove any combustible plants within 10 feet of the house.

    • Ornamental junipers and spruce are highly flammable.

    • Within 30 feet of the house, mow grasses to a 6-inch height or less.

    • If you have a second home that you are leaving for a while, put the deck furniture cushions and any doormats inside the house.

    • Remember that any weeds or grasses left in the fall will be a threat next spring, too.

    If you want to learn what else you can do, check with Wildfire Adapted Partnership at (970) 385-8909. Register for its E-News at wildfireadapted.org.