I remember the day we got our Wildfire Partners certificate. After working diligently for months, we finally completed all our Required Items. I sort of held my breath as our mitigation specialist walked around checking off the items.
“Congratulations, you passed!”
Whew. We planted our Wildfire Partners sign out by the road. We were finally done, right?
Not so fast. While getting your Wildfire Partners certification is a significant achievement, it’s not the end of your mitigation journey. Wildfire mitigation is not a one and done process. You’ll probably never have to do as much work as you did the first go round. But to remain effective, there are many items you’ll need to address on a regular basis.
Since is May is Wildfire Awareness Month and kicks off the wildfire season, here are some tips and reminders for staying on top of your ongoing mitigation as we head into summer.
Check Your Roof and Gutters. Winter’s winds and snow can exact a toll on your roof. Do you have any missing shingles that need to be replaced? Embers can smolder on exposed plywood leading to ignition. Don’t forget your gutters! Gutters can be filled with pine needles, branches and other debris. Get out the ladder and clean them out before summer’s heat turns them into fuel. Or hire a handyman to help you out. While you’re at it, check your eaves and remove bird nests before the birds return.
Examine the Walls. Check your siding for gaps and cracks that have widened over the past year. Caulk or patch any gaps more than 1/8-inch wide that could allow embers to accumulate and smolder. Now’s the time for aggressive raking to remove pine needles and debris that have collected at the base of your walls. A leaf blower can prove invaluable to blow away needles from a gravel barrier.
Look at the Deck. I look forward to sunny days on the deck in May. As we start planning summer barbecues, it’s good to think about patio furniture. Is it time to replace your table or chairs? Consider noncombustible materials like metal for your furniture as you plan your purchases. Don’t leave out items that could catch on fire like rugs or foot mats. Did you store your construction items underneath the deck during the winter? The area below your deck is a point of vulnerability. Make sure to remove all combustible vegetation and items that might have piled up. Many towns host Clean-up Days in early summer where you can dispose of anything. Now’s a good time to do some spring clean-up and dispose of it.
Prune Your Shrubs and Trees. Woody shrubs near your home pose a risk of ignition and need to be pruned regularly. Take a look at the conifers within the first 100 feet — are there limbs low to the ground that could ignite from a ground fire? Removing branches that are within 10 feet of the ground limit the risk. Remember, though, to never limb more than 1/3 the height of the tree.
Ladder Fuels. As I walked around with my dogs the other day, I kept spying little pines and firs that had sprouted up underneath our mature conifers. I could swear they weren’t there last summer. These small trees along with shrubs are considered ladder fuels. They can catch on fire and spread to into the crowns of big trees. Removing them while they are small just requires a few minutes of time with a good hand saw.
Trim Your Grasses. Get out the weed whacker! Winter’s moisture seems to lead to grasses growing at a furious rate. By keeping your grasses in the first 30 feet around your house trimmed to less than six inches, you’ll help protect your home. Homes have been saved through this simple maintenance action by reducing the blaze to a low level ground fire. Grasses that are allowed to grow and dry out can be tough to cut, so staying on top of them while they’re green and growing will make our life easier.
Mitigation is contagious. Trying to take down a tree near the road? Ask a neighbor to help spot you and offer to do the same for them. By working on mitigation, you’ll be a role model for others in your neighborhood to do the same. If we all are able to tackle some of these items this month, we’ll make our community that much safer heading into wildfire season.