Protect structures from wildfire using the zone concept
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Nearly 30,000 acres of land burned in Beaver County recently in Oklahoma’s largest wildfire this year. Several homes and numerous other structures and outbuildings were caught in the path of what is being called the 412 fire.
While some circumstances in this type of situation are beyond your control, there are some steps homeowners can take to help reduce the risks of losing everything in a fire.
David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Extension consumer horticulturist, said homeowners first need to evaluate their property and divide it into zones.
“Your primary goal is to reduce the amount of flammable vegetation and materials around your home. The house and everything around it, up to 100 to 200 feet, is known as the home ignition zone,” Hillock said. “There are three zones within this 200-foot area.”
Zone 1 includes the home itself, along with all attachments such as wooden decks, fences or boardwalks, and expands about 30 feet from the main structure. Zone 2 extends from 30 feet to 100 feet from the home, while Zone 3 expands from the 100 foot mark out to 200 feet.
Landscaping in Zone 1 should be carefully spaced, low-growing and free of resins, oils and waxes that can burn easily. Create a fire-free zone within 5 feet of the home by using nonflammable landscaping materials. Consider fire-resistant material for patio furniture and deck/patio material.
Something else to consider is the type of material that comprises the roof. Having a nonflammable roof covering adds a great amount of safety. In addition, keeping the roof and gutters clean and clear of leaves or needles is important when stepping up a home’s fire resistance.
“It goes without saying how important it is to mow your lawn regularly. It’s also good to prune trees 6 to 10 feet from the ground,” he said. “Keep your landscaping in this area well watered. If you happen to live in an area with water restrictions, consider xeriscaping in this area. Also, stacks of firewood and propane tanks should not be located in Zone 1.”
Trees in Zone 2 should be about 20 feet between individual trees and 30 feet between clusters of trees. When possible, create fuel breaks by installing hardscapes such as driveways and gravel walkways. Again, trees in this area should be pruned to 6 to 10 feet from the ground, just like those closer to the home.
In Zone 3, remove smaller conifers growing between taller trees. Also, remove heavy accumulation of woody debris and reduce the density of tall trees so canopies are not touching.
Research has shown not only should radiant heat exposure be mitigated in the home ignition zone, but so should exposure to embers and surface fire, too.
“Studies around home destruction and home survival in wildfires points to embers and small flames as the main culprit in the majority of homes ignited in wildfires,” Hillock said. “Preparing your home to withstand an ember attack, while minimizing the likelihood of flames or surface fire reaching the structure, are the best places for homeowners to start when it comes to the home ignition zone. Just these few simple ideas make a difference.”