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How-To: Protect Your Family and Home From a Wildfire

As most of you probably know, California has been ravaged by fires this Summer. As I write this, one of my friends awaits evacuation notice at her Southern California home, and several others are keeping a close watch on fire patterns in their area. Fire scares me — it is erratic and unpredictable and frighteningly fast. And while I can understand why some homeowners are reluctant to leave their homes, in the end, your home is just a house. It's the nonmaterial things you fill it with — namely your family, pets, and memories — that make it truly a home. This is why I urge readers to listen to firefighters' warnings, and to leave their homes if a mandatory evacuation is issued. Your life is much more important than any piece of property, no matter how much you love it.

Here are some smart pointers from the City of Napa, California's fire safety page:

  • Maintain a "defensible" space around your home by clearing all flammable vegetation a minimum of 30 feet around all structures.
  • Clear dead leaves and branches to leave widely spaced ornamental shrubbery and trees.
  • Clean all needles and leaves from the roof, eaves, rain gutters, and yard.
  • Trim tree limbs within 10 feet of your chimney and trim all dead limbs hanging over your house or garage.
  • Cover your chimney outlet or flue with a spark arresting half-inch mesh screen.
  • To see the rest of the tips,


  • Make sure your address is clearly visible for easy identification in an emergency.
  • Check to see if a fire hydrant is located near your home. If not, you should have a water storage supply of at least 2,500 gallons for use in an emergency situation.
  • Stack woodpiles at least 30 feet from buildings, fences, and other combustible materials.
  • Clear all vegetation and other flammable materials from beneath your deck. Enclose undersides of elevated decks with fire-resistive materials.
  • Remove "ladder fuels." They link the grasses and the tree tops.
  • Create "fuel breaks — these can be driveways, gravel walkways, or well-maintained lawns.
  • Maintain your irrigation system regularly.
  • Prune tree limbs so the lowest is between 6-10 feet from the ground.
  • Dispose of cuttings and debris promptly, according to local regulations.
  • Keep at least two means of escape (either a door or window) in each room.
  • Mark your driveway and access roads clearly.
  • Keep ample turnaround space near your house for fire equipment.
  • Prevent sparks from entering your house by covering vents with wire mesh no larger than 1/8 inch.
  • When possible, use construction materials that are fire resistant or noncombustible.


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