Temperatures will soon be rising, and wildfires will not be far behind. Fortunately, there is still time to take crucial steps towards mitigating the risk of wildfires to your tribe and tribal enterprises. These steps embody preventative maintenance principles that help reduce a wildfire’s ability to spread. Put the brakes on wildfires this year with the following tips for evaluating your wildfire ignition risk.
Related: Wildfire safety tips for businesses
What is ignition risk?
Ignition risk is the likelihood of a fire spreading in a given area. When it comes to wildfires, ignition is usually perpetuated in the form of an ember or spark. Also known as “firebrands,” these tiny glowing specks are often carried on the wind, sometimes miles beyond their location of origin. This long distance dramatically increases the potential for a wildfire to elude containment.
Fire cannot exist without these three requirements: oxygen, heat and fuel. An ember carries heat and is sustained by oxygen in the air. However, if there is no fuel for the ember to ignite when it finally does settle, it cannot spread a fire. The more resilient a facility or property is against embers and ignition, the less likely it is to burn in the event of a wildfire.
Tips for evaluating your wildfire ignition risk
The following tips, derived from a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) video on home assessment, make an excellent checklist for reducing the fuel potential and ignition risk.
Identify fuel sources
Debris such as pine needles, leaves and deadfall, also known as “duff” are all potential fuel sources. Identify any areas on your property where duff has naturally accumulated or been driven by wind. It’s likely that these are the places embers will also gather and subsequently ignite, if fuel is present.
Remove and dispose of fuel accumulations
If such fuels have accumulated, especially within five feet of your facility, implement measures to regularly remove and dispose of the buildup promptly. Consistent grounds maintenance is a simple, yet incredibly effective method of reducing ignition risk.
Related: Help your tribal entity create a fire prevention and protection plan
Inspect your roof
A building’s roof is the most vulnerable to ignition from embers. Even if it is constructed of fire-resistant material, accumulations of fuel can still ignite exterior siding. Gutters filled with duff can also introduce flame into eaves.
Cover ventilation sources
Ensure all exterior ventilation sources are covered by fine, non-flammable mesh that will prevent embers from entering your facility and igniting flammable materials within.
Assess facility landscaping
Analyze the landscaping within five feet of your facility. Prune dead vegetation from any plants. If mulch or other flammable material is used for ground cover adjacent to your facility, consider replacing it with a fire-resistant alternative such as gravel. Trim tree limbs to be 5-10 feet from the structure.
Assess property landscaping
Once you have addressed the landscaping nearest to your facilities, expand your analysis to the landscaping on the remainder of your property. Are your properties wooded, cultivated, or grassed? There are few landscapes that are entirely impervious to wildfire. Consider creating “defensible space” around your facility by the strategic use of zones. Clear out dead grass and weeds and cut lower tree limbs, so that the lowest tree limbs are 10 feet from the ground.
Identify other potential fuel sources
Wildfire can spread in a surprising number of ways. A building with relatively low ignition risk can still catch flame if a flammable broom is leaning against it when embers are present. Lawn furniture, other tools and outbuildings are also potential vectors that could spread embers to your facility if they were to ignite. Identify these and any other flammable items stored on your property. This allows you to picture how a fire might spread, which in turn reveals the actionable steps you can take to disrupt the chain of wildfire spread.
Related: Tribal business disaster recovery plan: a back-up plan to keep you in business
Put on the “breaks”
In addition to the previous tips for evaluating your wildfire ignition risk, there are several other prevention methods you may consider employing, especially on more extensive properties. These include the implementation of strategic fire breaks and fuel breaks, which can reduce the hazard and intensity of wildfires, provide defensible spaces for fire fighters, and improve the access and visual quality of your property.
A fire break is a strip of bare soil or fire-retarding vegetation meant to stop or control a fire. They can be a temporary or permanent installation, and pre-existing barriers that fit the criteria may even already exist on your property, such as roads, canals, and other bodies of water. Fire breaks should consist of fire-resistant vegetation, nonflammable materials, bare ground, or a combination thereof. A width of 10 feet is usually effective in stopping creeping ground fires. While a premeditated fire break can be an excellent way to protect property, it is also a much more intensive form of preventative maintenance. Be sure to consult with local fire departments and other applicable organizations beforehand to ensure your efforts are effective for your property and do not result in unwanted soil erosion or other long-term damage.
A fuel break is a strip or block of vegetation that has been altered to slow or control a fire. A fuel break may still burn, but hopefully at a much reduced rate, or in such a way that will preserve the facilities that exist on a property. A fuel break is created by reducing the fuel volume in a space, breaking fuel continuity and eliminating fuel chains between structures and surrounding vegetation. This is similar to the method employed by the creation of defensible space previously mentioned. A fuel break is often accomplished by strategic pruning, spacing, mowing or grazing of existing landscaping such as trees, bushes and ground cover. This can also be achieved by strategic planting of flame-resistant varieties of vegetation. Unlike a fire break, the philosophy of a fuel break is not to completely control or remove all vegetation, but to maintain it in such a way that breaks up continuity between various fuel sources during a wildfire.
Stop wildfire in its tracks this season. For more tips for evaluating your wildfire ignition risk, please consult the following sources that were used in the creation of this article. If you have any questions, please contact your tribal risk manager.
Information for this article was taken from the following sources:
5 key areas around the home you must examine when assessing wildfire risk