Protect Your Home During a Wildfire
THE WILDFIRES THAT destroyed more than 2,400 buildings around Fort McMurray, Canada, continued to burn into June, prompting global help to fight the fires and aid displaced residents. As the world watched Mother Nature destroy so many houses so quickly, more people began paying attention to what can be done to minimize the risk of fire damage to their own homes.
“Sometimes, avoiding damage during a wildfire is a case of luck, and sometimes it’s a case of someone using good fire-safe techniques,” says Shayne Mintz, Canadian regional director of the National Fire Protection Association. Though completely protecting your home is impossible, there are a few ways people can reduce the risk of their home burning during a wildfire.
Combustion-resistant building materials are important in wildfire-prone areas. Vinyl siding should be avoided, as it ignites easily. However, cement board siding is an option, as well as cement stucco, which provides 1.5 inches of non-combustible protection. Another alternative is full brick masonry, which provides 4 inches of protection, according to Wayne Finley, president of the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors of Alberta and owner of Finley Home Inspections.
Finley also recommends adding an air space to the inner width and a full rainscreen to walls. In addition, the windows should be double glazed.
While walls are arguably the most important material for fire resistance, the roof also plays a key role. Using combustion-resistant roofing materials, such as metal or concrete shingles, can help deter combustion.
The deck material should also be taken into account. Homeowners should avoid decking materials that are prone to combustion. Instead, try steel frame or aluminum decking. Some lumber can still be used, as long as it’s treated with a fire retardant.
Homeowners in wildfire-prone areas also should make sure combustible landscaping is not located against their houses. They should add a 30-foot perimeter around the home that’s free of mulch, leaves and tall grass.
“We call that 30-foot area the ‘home ignition zone,’ so make sure it’s cleared,” Mintz says. “That will provide a buffer for the home.”
Proper home maintenance can help a home survive a wildfire. Mintz suggests homeowners clean debris out of eaves along the house. He also recommends paying attention to small factors that could lead to big problems, such as storing firewood under a deck or near the house.
In addition, Mintz recommends making sure the soffit vents and vents into the foundation are properly size with a mesh no larger than 3 to 4 millimeters in size, which will prevent embers from entering a home.
Due to the extent of the damage, the wildfires will likely lead to changes in the building industry. For example, Finley expects insurance companies to begin giving rebates to clients using fire-resistant building materials. Mintz expects it to lead to changes in building codes.
“We’re working on code developers, insurers and communities in fire-prone areas to improve code to make sure these kinds of events are minimized,” Mintz says. “But there’s no way to eliminate them all together.”
The Fort McMurray wildfires were huge, requiring an incredible amount of manpower to control, and resulting in significant damage to homes, the environment and the local economies. While there’s no sure solution to preventing destruction during a wildfire, there are ways homeowners and builders can reduce the risk of fire damage.