The wildfire crisis on the West Coast grew to a staggering scale on Friday, as huge fires merged and bore down on towns and suburbs, state leaders pleaded for firefighting help, and tens of thousands of people were told to evacuate.
Oregon, Washington State and California are enduring a wildfire season of historic proportions, with the firefighting effort compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. At least 15 people have died in the fires, with more expected as teams search through burned homes.
The fires have consumed more than three million acres in California, almost a million acres in Oregon and destroyed entire towns in Washington. The blazes have torn through idyllic mountain towns, reduced subdivisions to beams and embers, and spewed foul smoke-filled air across a region that is home to millions of people.
Each year, thousands of acres of forest burn across the U.S., and more and more people are living where wildfires are a real risk. Nearly 45 million homes abut or intermingle with woodlands and more than 72,000 U.S. communities are now at risk. But by working together residents can make their own property – and their neighborhood – much safer from fire.
Tip #1: Clear
Clear off pine needles, dead leaves and anything that can burn from your roof lines, gutters, decks, porches patios and along fence lines. Falling embers will have nothing to burn.
Tip #2: Store
Store away furniture cushions, rattan mats, potted plants and other decorations from decks, porches, and patios. these items catch embers and help ignite you home if you were to leave them outside.
Tip #3: Screen & Seal
Wind-borne embers can get into homes easily through vents and other openings and burn the home from the inside out. Walk around your house to see what openings you can screen or temporarily seal up.
Tip #4: Rake
Embers landing in mulch that touches our house, deck or fence is a big fire hazard. Rake out any landscaping mulch to at least five feet away from your home.
Tip #5: Trim
Trim back any shrubs or tree branches that come closer than 5 feet to the house or attachments, as well as overhanging branches.
Tip #6: Remove
Walk around your house and remove anything within 30 feet that could burn, such as woodpiles, spare lumber, vehicles and boats – anything that can act as a large fuel source.
Tip #7: Close
If ordered to evacuate, make sure that all windows and doors are closed tightly, and seal up any pet doors. Many homes are destroyed by embers entering these openings and burning the house from the inside out.
By working together, residents can make their own property — and their neighborhood — much safer from wildfire.
Other Things to Consider:
- Wildfire can spread to tree tops. Prune trees so the lowest branches are 6 to 10 feet from the ground.
- Keep your lawn hydrated and maintained. If it is brown, cut it down to reduce fire intensity. Dry grass and shrubs are fuel for wildfire. See more lawn tips here.
- Don’t let debris and lawn cuttings linger. Dispose of these items quickly to reduce fuel for fire.
- Inspect shingles or roof tiles. Replace or repair those that are loose or missing to prevent ember penetration.
- Cover exterior attic vents with metal wire mesh no larger than 1/8 inch to prevent sparks from entering the home.
- Enclose under-eave and soffit vents or screens with metal mesh to prevent ember entry.
- Learn more about how to protect your home and property at www.firewise.org.
- Assemble an emergency supply kit and place it in a safe spot. Remember to include important documents, medications and personal identification.
- Develop an emergency evacuation plan and practice it with everyone in your home.
- Plan two ways out of your neighborhood and designate a meeting place.
- Learn more about emergency preparedness planning on NFPA’s emergency planning webpage
- Contact your local planning/zoning office to find out if your home is in a high wildfire risk area, and if there are specific local or county ordinances you should be following.
- If you are part of a homeowner association, work with them to identify regulations that incorporate proven preparedness landscaping, home design and building material use.
- Talk to your local fire department about how to prepare, when to evacuate, and the response you and your neighbors can expect in the event of a wildfire.
- Learn about wildfire risk reduction efforts, including how land management agencies use prescribed fire to manage local landscapes.
- Learn how you can make a positive difference in your community.
- Stay aware of the latest news and updates from your local media and fire department. Get your family, home and pets prepared to evacuate.
- Place your emergency supply kit and other valuables in your vehicle.
- Move patio or deck furniture, cushions, door mats and potted plants in wooden containers either indoors or as far away from the home, shed and garage as possible.
- Connect garden hoses and fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs, or other large containers with water. Firefighters have been known to use the hoses to put out fires on rooftops.
- Leave as early as possible, before you’re told to evacuate. Do not linger once evacuation orders have been given. Promptly leaving your home and neighborhood clears roads for firefighters to get equipment in place to fight the fire, and helps ensure residents’ safety.
More information, visit www.firewise.org