The recent outbreak of wildfires in the US Southwest should have everyone thinking about home protection these days. Of course, the greatest threat will be in the Southwest and it will be growing. But, the incidence of wildfires will be rising in other parts of the country and a few simple points could mean the difference between having your home ravaged and remaining intact.
We live in Austin, which last year was the center of many wildfires which destroyed a number of homes. And, just in the last few weeks, we've seen many hundreds of homes destroyed in the US Southwest. What have we learned?
First, the fire department is not staffed to handle wildfires. They are staffed to fight individual fires. Once a wildfire starts, it will take time to amass a fighting force from state and national resources. That means a lot of time will elapse before firefighters arrive to defend your home. Thus, you are ultimately going to be responsible for your own home safety—do not assume the fire department will be arriving before the wildfire reaches your home.
It's instructive to look at which homes burned in the recent Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs and which did not. All of the petroleum-based (asphalt) shingled-homes went up in flames. They might have claimed to be fire-retardant, but they weren't. The homes with terra-cotta tiled roofs had much better survival rates than asphalt-shingled houses.
Stucco construction proved its worth as wooden siding proved virtually useless.
Those homeowners who got rid of their lawns turned out to be very smart. Lawns not only wick moisture from the soil, they dry out trees and bushes, making them vulnerable to catching on fire from burning embers. As you saw on the video we posted recently, there was a hail of burning embers being emitted by the fire and transported to neighboring houses on the wind. If you can eliminate the possibility of your lawn helping propagate the fire, you're metres ahead. And, of course, if you're in a drought area, why are you wasting drinking water to keep grass green in the first place?
Finally, one of the most obvious defenses against wildfire causing your house to catch on fire is the mere act of putting water on the fire. Now, you may have evacuated ahead of the fire (let's hope you did), but having a sprinkler system which douses the house from an emergency reservoir of water would come in very handy in saving your house. Notice that in the video we posted, the driver was able to extinguish a small blaze before it progressed very much—and saved a house because he was there, johnny-on-the-spot. Most people won't be that lucky, but you can leave a sprinkler system setup to do the job in your absence. External water spray system provides more information on installing such a system.