Protect your home from wildfires

April 17, 2013

y Pat Maurer

Review Correspondent

Spring, when you are beginning the clean up on your property, is a good time to “think like a wildfire.”

If a fire could think, it would head for the largest fuel source around – your home. Blocking any paths that would help it reach your home will increase the odds of your home surviving an encroaching fire.

The Department of Natural Resources recommends a 50 foot “buffer zone” around a home with only high moisture plants nearby. Wood mulch next to a home can be a real danger in a wildfire. They recommend gravel or decorative stone instead.

No dry grass, unpruned trees, or flammable shrubs near the house? You’ve made a good start on creating defensible space. But a wildfire has a third means of reaching the structure. The updraft from an active fire can cast embers miles beyond the perimeter. If the ember lands on a roof covered by leaves, needles, or other debris, the fire will have found a path to more destruction. If the ember rolls into the

rain gutter, the fate of the house depends on the owner’s maintenance regime. If leaves or conifer needles have accumulated there, the ember has a ready-made fuel bed. This material doesn’t always burst into a tall, showy flame. Rather, it kindles a smokeless, smoldering burn that creeps into the underlayment of the roof.

Surrey Fire Chief Dave Williams stressed that people should “keep brush, weeds and tall grass cut back away from any buildings. It could save your home.”

He said it is very important to contact the Harrison Department of Natural Resources for a burning permit before burning yard debris. “Despite the recent rains, we are still recovering from several years of drought conditions,” he said. “The years of dryer than normal conditions have led to a lack of ground moisture and it’s easy for a small fire to get away from someone.”

Harrison Forest Fire Officer Chris Damvelt emphasized in an earlier article that when burning is allowed, it is important to have tools nearby, in case the fire gets away. In northeastern Clare County in 2009, a downstate man, who didn’t call for a permit, he said, lost control of a fire because he started the fire before getting out tools for safety. “He started the fire then went to get a hose. His hose was still frozen,” he said. That wildfire burned one-tenth of an acre.

Tall, dry grass accelerates a fire’s spread outward and forward from its point of origin. If it reaches flammable shrubs, the fire begins to climb the “fuel ladder.” Low tree limbs overhanging the burning shrubs dry out from the heat, and soon the flames leap into the limbs and ascend into the tree top. This enables the fire to move rapidly from tree to tree in what firefighters term a “crown fire.” If a tree standing close to a house ignites, the fire’s next move could very well be to the structure itself.

In 2010 a wildfire that was started by a resident burning brush in Crawford County destroyed 12 homes, damaged two others and destroyed or damaged 39 outbuildings. The fire consumed nearly 9,000 acres.

You need to provide breaks in the vegetation to protect your home and others nearby. To keep fire from spreading; keep the plants and grass pruned, watered, and green; and keep firewood and propane tanks uphill and 30 feet or more away from the home. With a few days’ work, you can breathe much more easily knowing you have done what you can to protect yourselves against wildfire.

Following these basic steps can help protect your largest investment against damage or loss resulting from wildfire.

When burning permits are issued, none are issued for trees logs, brush and stumps within 1400 feet of a city or village.

However, in Lake Isabella Village, Rosebush, Clare City, the Village of Farwell and in Harrison open burning of either grass clippings or leaves is allowed with a permit. Open burning is prohibited by local ordinance in Mt. Pleasant and in Shepherd.

Permits are issued only for limbs, brush, stumps, evergreen needles, leaves, grass and land clearing for construction, roadway maintenance.

Burn permits are not required for cooking or recreational campfires or when there is adequate snow cover adjacent to the fire.

Demolition debris, construction materials and automotive parts can never be burned due to air quality regulations.

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