Protecting Residences From Wildfires

Occupant Activities

Even if all the recommendations and standards set forth herein are scrupulously adhered to, it is still prudent for the homeowner or other occupant to take steps to protect self and home from fire (Alger 1971, Wilson 1962).

To be effective these steps should be taken in a logical three-part sequence: those things to be done, maintained, or practiced in advance of any emergency; those to be done when an emergency has been forecast or is likely to happen; those to be done when fire threatens the home. The steps in the last group depend largely for their effectiveness on the manner in which those ill the first two groups are carried out. Similarly those in the second group depend largely on the steps in the first group having been taken.

Advance Fire Protection

The keys to an occupant's contribution to the fire defenses of the home or other structure are (a) planning of actions, and (b) providing equipment. Planning should include all those actions to be carried out, and by whom, when dangerous fire weather exists or is forecast as well as those tasks to be done when the structure is actually threatened by a wildland fire. Equipment not only needs to be acquired but must be strategically placed and its proper use for firefighting learned. All members of the family or other regular occupants of the structure must participate in the planning and training and must thoroughly understand the proper use of equipment. Planning should include alternatives so that panic or ineffective actions will not occur in case the primary plan cannot be accomplished or certain equipment fails or breaks (Alger 1971, Building News, Inc. 1977, Oreg. St. Dep. For. 1978a, Hulbert 1972, Smaus 1978 b).

Proposed Standards:

  1. Include in fire emergency plans the following items as a minimum:
    1. Normal and alternate escape routes in case evacuation becomes necessary.
    2. Locations of and routes to fire-safe sanctuaries (large areas with little or no fuels) where family members can ride out the fire if egress is cut off.
    3. Normal and alternate methods of communication with other family members.
    4. When to evacuate. Evacuation depends on so many variables that it can only be planned on an individual property basis and with contingent alternatives.
    5. Who is to do what when an emergency is likely and when one exists.
  2. Provide the following minimum equipment for each property, preferably to be used only for firefighting or training:
    1. Hoses preconnected to all faucets; hoses should be five-eighths inch or larger inside diameter and 100 feet long.
    2. One or more long-handle, round-point shovels.
    3. One ladder long enough to reach the roof of the building easily.
    4. One rake (leaf, garden, asphalt or special firefighting).
    5. One or more 5-pound multipurpose fire extinguishers.
  3. Additional desirable equipment includes.
    1. An axe.
    2. A hoe (heavy duty or special firefighting).
    3. One or more fire buckets.
    4. A backpack water pump.
    5. A portable gasoline-powered water pump.
    6. Protective clothing for anyone who may not evacuate before the arrival of a fire (i. e., boots, long trousers, long-sleeved shirt or jacket, helmet or other head covering, gloves, goggles).

Preparations for Possible Emergency

The wildland fire protection agencies in California in cooperation with the National Weather Service, U.S. Department of Commerce, have developed a Red Flag Fire Alert System. This graduated system uses watch, warning and alert stages. It usually provides fire agencies, public utilities, and other cooperators 48 hours or more advance notice of impending critical fire weather. The public, however, is usually not notified until the critical weather has actually arrived (alert stage).

Whenever a Red Flag Fire Alert is announced by the local fire protection agency or a Santa Ana or similar wind is blowing or other conditions exist that indicate that a wildland fire, if once started, would be likely to turn into a conflagration, homeowners should start carrying out their fire protection plans. At such times checklists, if not previously prepared in the advanced planning phase, should be made and put to use. The house or other structure should be placed in a maximum state of preparedness for defense against fire (Alger 1971; Building News, Inc. 1977; San Bernardino County Bd. Sup. 1974; Smaus 1978 b).

Proposed Standards: Follow any checklist previously prepared and take any of the following actions that are appropriate:

  1. Close all openings, including windows, doors, garage doors, vents.
  2. Close window protection equipment as available (i.e., shutters, heavy drapes, venetian or other blinds).
  3. Remove light flammable curtains from windows.
  4. Test water system, including any pumps on the property, each valve and each hose.
  5. Fill buckets and other bulk containers with water.
  6. Raise the ladder to the roof near a hose bib and take the hose to the roof.
  7. Bring all flammable outdoor furniture indoors.
  8. Put as many motor vehicles as can be accommodated inside the garage.
  9. Park all vehicles, including any in the garage, so that they are heading out toward the evacuation route.
  10. Cover windows with aluminum foil or other heat reflective material.

Wildfire Approaching

When a wildfire is in progress, certain final preparations should be made and certain decisions reached even though it may not be a threat at the moment. Wildland conflagrations can and do change direction of spread abruptly as has been documented on many occasions. Preparations at this time are concerned primarily with conserving water and fuel and reducing the flammability of the building. Whether everyone should evacuate the premises or one or more persons should remain to protect the property must be decided. Children, old people, invalids and other handicapped people should evacuate, but whether all able-bodied adults should do so will depend on the circumstances. Critical factors include: availability and dependability of water, type of roof, proximity of vegetative fuels and other structures, presence of trained and equipped firefighters, adequacy of tools and equipment, and access to fire-safe sanctuaries. Cases of doubt or indecision should be resolved in favor of life safety rather than property safety (Alger 1971, San Bernardino County Bd. sup. 1974).

Proposed Standards: Take the following actions upon the approach of a wildland conflagration:

  1. Shut off any natural gas, LPG, or fuel oil supplies at a point as far from the structure as the plumbing will allow.
  2. Make certain that all water is shut off except that supplying external hose bibs which may be used for firefighting. The house should be plumbed so that closing one valve will accomplish this. If it is not, close each interior faucet and valve.
  3. Evacuate everyone except possibly one or more able-bodied adults properly equipped to protect the structure and themselves, provided it is safe to remain.

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