Protecting the home from wildfires is now a bigger concern than ever for Austin residents. A wet winter and spring have left the region with plenty of growth that could easily become tinder in the dry summer months, putting central Texas near the top of the nation’s list for wildfire risk this year. In the past few years, spurred by drought and suburban expansion into woodland areas, wildfires have become far more destructive. Austin, in particular, risks seeing its Greenbelt act as a corridor that would allow flames to spread into the city. But there are many ways that local residents can prepare their property ahead of time. To make sure your home is protected, you need multiple levels of defense.
Level 1: Wildfire Prevention for Your Yard
The first level of wildfire prevention involves keeping your yard and the area closest to your house safe from encroaching flames.
Remove the fire’s fuel
If you have a woodpile, propane tanks, or other fuels on your property, store them at least 30 feet from your house. This ensures that if the fire does reach them, they will be far enough away to prevent direct damage to your home. These items should also be stored at least 10 feet from each other to prevent fire spreading easily from one to the other.
Especially in flowerbeds situated against your house, replace combustible materials like wood chip, bark, or shredded rubber mulch with non-flammable alternatives like gravel or stone. If you must choose an organic material, composted wood chips are the least flammable.
Shrubs and small decorative trees can act as “ladders” to spread fire up the sides of a house, so remove any trees or shrubs planted against your home. If you plan to replant them, or plant new ones, place them at least 10 feet from the house and 10 feet apart from each other, so that if one tree ignites, the flames can’t easily spread to the others.
Avoid decorating with trellises or arches, which are prime “ladders” to aid the spread of flames. Your safest bet is to get rid of them, but if you choose to keep them, move them at least 10 feet from the house. For the same reason, don’t use ivy or other climbing plants as a decorative element on your home.
Remove the weak links
Roofs ignite more frequently than any other part of a home during wildfires, so it’s essential to remove anything that could potentially carry flames to your roof. Cut any tree branches closer than 6 feet to the ground to prevent the tree from becoming a “ladder” in the first place, then cut any that overhang your roof—including any porch or patio awnings—as a last precaution should the tree catch fire anyway.
Level 2: Wildfire Prevention for Your Home
The most important level of wildfire prevention involves protecting your home itself from fire and airborne embers.
Ensure your roofing is fire-safe
Airborne embers, not the flames themselves, are the greatest threat to any home during a wildfire. Embers can travel faster and farther than the fire they originate from, igniting roofs and siding that the flames might not otherwise have reached.
Replace shingles made from easily ignitable materials like wood or wood-fiber with a Class A Non-Combustible material. Do the same for your siding. If you have a barrel tile roof, or use any other roofing material that leaves an opening, grout the open edges to prevent embers from entering.
Deny embers fuel
Your roof and siding aren’t the only sources of fuel your home could provide for windblown embers. During the summer months, make sure to keep your gutters clear, to ensure that debris doesn’t become tinder. For the same reason, make sure you regularly clear debris like leaves and pine needles from any porches, patios or balconies.
Deny embers entry
Embers can easily be blown into exterior vents, putting the interior of your home at risk. Cover dryer, attic, exhaust and any other vents with mesh screening.
Ensure your windows are heat-resistant
The extreme heat of a wildfire can cause the windows facing it to shatter, even if the house itself hasn’t ignited. These shattered windows give embers and flames an easy conduit into your home.
Replace old windows with multi-layer or tempered glass panes. Be sure to do the same for any glass doors. You might also consider installing sturdy shutters that can be closed in the event of a wildfire for an added layer of protection.
Eliminate “heat pockets”
If you’re one of the many people who use an open area under your porch or deck as a storage space, it’s time to clean it out. These spaces easily attract embers, and if what you’re storing there ignites, the trapped heat will quickly intensify, endangering the integrity of your home.
Keep the area under your porch or deck clear. Toss the junk and store whatever you plan to keep elsewhere on your property. Enclose the open space with mesh screening (or other non-flammable material) to keep embers out.
As you prepare to put these wildfire prevention tips into practice, keep in mind that as you clear out the old siding, shingles, shrubs and other items that put your home at risk, you’ll need a way to dispose of it all quickly. Letting piles of debris accumulate on your property to become tinder would undo all the hard work you’ve put into taking your home’s safety to the highest level. If you think a dumpster might fit the bill, we can help you find affordable Austin dumpster rentals.
According to the U.S. Forestry Service, fire season is now 60-80 days longer than it was at the start of the century and produces more dangerous fires. New Mexico’s Cerro Grande fire of 2000 covered 47,000 acres in six days. The 2011 Bastrop County fires covered 40,000 acres in 12 hours—and took months to be fully extinguished. Take the necessary steps now to keep Austin—and your home—fire-safe.