I remember the day we moved into our home in Nederland. For years, I’d dreamed of living in the mountains of Colorado. Cool summers, and views of snow capped peaks. Nirvana!
Six weeks later, my husband burst into our house shouting “Get our stuff together – there’s a wildfire a mile away, we’ve got to evacuate now!”
Fortunately, for us, firefighters were able to put the fire out rather quickly, and by the next day we were back in our home. But it was a rude awakening to the realities of living in the wildfire zone. My husband said ruefully, “I didn’t know we’d moved into a fire pit!”
Like many of you, we’d moved from a suburban environment where we never had to worry about fires burning down our home. Our journey brought us from suburban Maryland.
So what do you need to know if you’re new to this environment and you want to do everything you can to protect your home from being destroyed in a wildfire?
Schedule a Wildfire Partners Assessment Assessment. Our mitigation specialists will help you identify the vulnerabilities for your home and property. A detailed report will give you specific items you can work on to help protect your home during a wildfire. We recommend having a re-certification assessment every 2-3 years. Call us or email to schedule. If you’ve gotten your report, make sure to review your checklist for priority items to address.
Be Prepared. Accept the reality of where you live and be prepared. Practice evacuating your home within 15 minutes. Put together a “go bag” with several days’ worth of clothes, medications, pet food and other important items. Gather those prized family photos and other irreplaceable mementos into some “fire boxes” that are stored in a set place and can be grabbed quickly.
During that instant when we had to leave at a moment’s notice, I wasn’t prepared. We grabbed our computers and our pets. In my frantic quest to take a memento, I grabbed my wedding dress. I realized that night that I didn’t even have a change of clothes, nor any food for our pets.
Make a Plan. Register ahead of time through Boulder Office of Emergency Management for notifications to your phone. Talk to your neighbors about retrieving your pets if you aren’t home when a fire breaks out. Prepare by adding them to your contacts. By planning ahead, you’ll eliminate some stress.
Implement Firewise Landscaping. Let go of your previous life of a manicured lawn and landscaping. The very things that gave your house curb appeal in the suburbs are dangerous to your mountain home. Bushes and trees right up against your house provide fuel that can be ignited and ultimately set your house on fire. Instead, embrace xeriscaping, incorporating a hardscape around your home as a noncombustible barrier, and promote plants and trees that are more ignition resistant (ie, aspens).
Trade Your Lawnmower for a Weed Whacker. Many mountain properties are built on slopes with a more natural landscape. Furthermore, many homes are dependent on household wells, which restrict water use to indoors only. But keeping grasses trimmed to less than six inches in the first 30 feet around your home, will keep fire low to the ground, and could save your home. A good weed whacker will prove invaluable.
Invest in Saws. If you’re a Do-it-Yourselfer, purchasing both a good chainsaw (or two) and some hand saws will be invaluable. You can use a hand saw to limb your trees, removing the branches 10 feet above the ground, as well as cut down small trees that act as ladder fuels to your large conifers. If you purchase a chainsaw, make sure you get proper training, and also use proper gear (chaps, gloves, safety glasses, and helmet). Learning to use a chainsaw will not only allow you to take down some trees yourself, but also cut up the trunks for firewood you can use in the wintertime.
Check Your Windows. If you don’t already have double paned windows, you’ll want to think about replacing them. Double paned windows provide extra protection during a wildfire. If by chance the radiant heat cracks the exterior pane, the interior pane could prevent fire from entering your home. And you’ll surely appreciate the thermal properties during the winter of keeping your home warmer.
Get out Your Caulk Gun. Gaps in your siding provide an opportunity for embers to get inside your house. By regularly checking your siding for gaps more than 1/8-inch, you can stop ignition. Although it may take some sweat equity, the cost is minimal, and the benefits will keep you peace of mind that you’ve hardened your home.
It may feel overwhelming, but know you’re not alone. Over two million Coloradans live in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). By working together in our mountain communities, we can make our neighborhoods collectively safer.
And we are here to provide all the assistance you need during your quest.