When wildfires are raging throughout the region, living in a high fire-risk area can be unnerving. There are things you can do, however, to make your home more resistant to wildfire. Earlier this summer, the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team (TTFT), with support from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and all counties within the Lake Tahoe Basin, announced its new Lake Tahoe Wildfire Awareness Campaign, kicking off with the theme, Is Your Home Ignition Resistant?
“Wildfire is a threat that significantly impacts Lake Tahoe’s environmental, economic, and social well-being,” North Tahoe Fire Chief Steve Leighton said when the initiative was launched. “We are here to help residents and visitors prepare the Lake Tahoe communities to survive wildfire by becoming adapted.”
According to the TFFT, in 2020, California and Nevada experienced a record number of red flag fire weather days along with a record-setting, devastating fire season. Residents and visitors alike are urged to create a family evacuation plan and to have a go-bag at the ready. It’s not just the remote forested areas that foster out-of-control wildfires, agencies say. Home hazards also start fires, and there are many things people can do around the house to prevent them.
The following is a list of home hardening basics compiled courtesy of the North Tahoe Fire Protection District:
The roof is the most vulnerable part of your home. Homes with wood or shingle roofs are at high risk of being destroyed during a wildfire. Build your roof, or re-roof, with materials such as composition, metal, or tile. Block any spaces between roof decking and covering to prevent embers from catching.
Vents on homes create openings for flying embers.
Cover all vent openings with 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch metal mesh. Do not use fiberglass or plastic mesh because they can melt and burn.
Protect vents in eaves or cornices with baffles to block embers. (Mesh is not enough.)
Eaves and soffits should be protected with ignition-resistant* or non-combustible materials.
Heat from a wildfire can cause windows to break even before the home is on fire. This allows embers to enter and start fires inside. Single-paned and large windows are particularly vulnerable.
Install dual-paned windows with one pane of tempered glass to reduce the chance of breakage in a fire.
Consider limiting the size and number of windows that face large areas of vegetation.
Walls: Wood products such as boards, panels, or shingles are common siding materials. However, they are flammable and not good choices for fire-prone areas.
Build or remodel your walls with ignition resistant* building materials, such as stucco, fiber cement wall siding, fire retardant, treated wood, or other approved materials.
Be sure to extend materials from the foundation to the roof.
Decks: Surfaces within 10 feet of the building should be built with ignition-resistant*, non-combustible, or other approved materials.
Ensure that all combustible items are removed from underneath your deck.
Keep rain gutters clear or enclose rain gutters to prevent accumulation of plant debris.
Use the same ignition-resistant* materials for patio coverings as a roof.
Cover your chimney and stovepipe outlets with a non-flammable screen. Use metal screen material with openings no smaller than 3/8-inch and no larger than 1/2-inch to prevent embers from escaping and igniting a fire.
Garage: Have a fire extinguisher and tools such as a shovel, rake, bucket, and hose available for fire emergencies.
Install weather stripping around and under the garage door to prevent embers from blowing in.
Store all combustible and flammable liquids away from ignition sources.
Fences: Consider using ignition-resistant* or non-combustible fence materials to protect your home during a wildfire.
Driveways and access roads: Driveways should be built and maintained in accordance with state and local codes to allow fire and emergency vehicles to reach your home. Consider maintaining access roads with a minimum of 10 feet of clearance on either side, allowing for two-way traffic.
Ensure that tall gates open inward and are wide enough to accommodate emergency equipment.
Trim trees and shrubs overhanging the road to allow emergency vehicles to pass.
Address: Make sure your address is clearly visible from the road.
Water supply: Consider having multiple garden hoses that are long enough to reach all areas of your home and other structures on your property. If you have a pool or well, consider getting a pump.
*Ignition-resistant building materials are those that resist ignition or sustained burning when exposed to embers and small flames from wildfires. Examples of ignition-resistant materials include “non-combustible materials” that don’t burn, exterior grade fire-retardant-treated wood lumber, fire-retardant-treated wood shakes and shingles listed by the State Fire Marshal, and any material that has been tested in accordance with SFM Standard 12-7A-5.
Living With Fire Program: livingwithfire.com
University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources: ucanr.edu/sites/fire
Insurance Institute for Home and Business Safety–Wildfire: ibhs.org
CAL FIRE Ready for Wildfire: readyforwildfire.org
Sustainable Defensible Space: defensiblespace.org