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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.


Join The Conversation
CocoChic CocoChic 8 years
Thanks for this story, Casa! There have been a lot of wildfires in New Mexico too and some friends of mine almost lost their home.
kia kia 8 years
I was in Cali a couple of weeks ago as the fires were growing and SF was just getting choked with smoke. I can't believe how more advanced the situation has become across the state. I hope the loss of life and damage to structures is kept to a minimum. I am currently in an area not threatened by any fires, but as a person that has fought wildland fires I am always on alert. My husband and I also have our "list" in the event that we are given a few minutes to gather some belongings if we are evacuated for any reason.
The-City-Girl The-City-Girl 8 years
I will never forget the firestorm in the Oakland Hills in 1991. I was only 8, but it was so extreme that it's left very vivid memories. The entire east bay seemed to glow this evil orange from the blaze, and it literally rained postage-stamp-sized chunks of white ash for days. Twenty-five people died, too. Since then, I've been really wary of it, and I hope that firefighters in Big Sur can contain it soon (the sun was an apocalypitic color last night from all the smoke!)
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