From the elderly couple who broke down in tears when they returned to find a pile of rubble where their home once stood, to the countless stories about brave and heroic neighbors, farmers, ranchers, veterans and complete strangers, wildfires make headlines.
“We didn’t have a chance to react. It was here, and we got out with the clothes on our back. All of our memories, everything is gone,” 70-year-old Martha Grimm tells the Associated Press’ Brian Skoloff and Kristin J. Bender.
The good news is that last year, the incidence of wildfires was lower than the year before. The bad news? From January through April of this year, 2017, there were nearly 3,000 more fires than in the same time period in 2016, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
What is wildfire?
Think back to that firefighter that visited your elementary school class. During his or her address, the talk most likely centered around the fire triangle – the three elements necessary for a fire to “live.” These include oxygen, fuel (flammable materials such as dry grassland, brush, trees and homes) and a source of heat (campfire, the sun, lightning and cigarettes, for example).
When all three elements converge, in a susceptible area, a wildfire breaks out. The more fuel there is, the more intense the flames will be and the hotter and faster the fire moves.
“Even before the flames of a wildfire arrive at a particular location, heat transfer from the wildfire front warms the air to 800 °C (1,470 °F),” according to Doug Knowling, author of “Ecological Restoration: Wildfire Ecology Reference Manual.” Can you imagine what 1,470 degrees feels like? This extreme temperature dries out flammable materials, causing them to ignite faster and the fire to spread more quickly.
Knowling says that wildfires in forests move about 6.7 miles-per-hour while those in grasslands spread at a rate of 14 miles-per-hour. Not understanding how quickly a fire moves is the reason so many victims are caught off-guard, and, unprepared.
Protect your family and your home from wildfires
Scientists believe that the first wildfire occurred about 420 million years ago. And, before chalking up recent blazes to climate change, understand that the most devastating fires in our country’s history occurred in the late 18th century (the Great Peshtigo Fire) in Wisconsin and the early 19th centuries (the “Great Fire of 1910”) in Idaho, Montana and Washington.
What has changed since then is that we have more information about wildfires and how to protect ourselves. Readyforwildfire.org suggests these three preliminary steps:
- Create an evacuation plan for your family, home and pets.
- Assemble an emergency supply kit for each person, and pet, in the household.
- Determine a communication plan so that each member of the family knows how to contact one another.
Prepare your home for wildfire by:
- Ridding your landscape of combustible materials to within 5-feet of it. Use brick, gravel or concrete instead. Remove tree branches that overhang the deck and house. Ensure there is no dry or dead vegetation.
- Consider replacing your siding with noncombustible siding. Otherwise, ensure that there is a 6-inch ground-to-siding clearance,” according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Safety.
- Maintain your roof by consistently removing debris. Hot embers love the stuff.
- Do the same with gutters – keep them clear of debris during fire season.
- Replace wood fences with noncombustible materials.
- Install 1/8-inch metal mesh over roof vents.
- Close the windows when fire threatens.
- Don’t forget the deck. Those boards are combustible. . .maintain that defensible space mentioned in the first step.
For a more detailed list of ways to protect your home, visit disastersafety.org.
The months of June through September of 2017 have been designated wildfire season, according to the U.S. government’s National Interagency Fire Center. Last year, wildfires simultaneously raged across seven states.
Take steps now to protect your family and your home.