Deadly wildfires can happen here

Published 10:37 am Wednesday, November 7, 2007

By Staff
As we watched wildfires rage in Southern Carolina just a few weeks ago, many of us probably thought that such a thing could never happen here.
We would be wrong to think that.
The blazes in California destroyed more than 2,000 homes and killed 14 people. Of those 2,000 homes, many may have been saved through the use of Firewise concepts before the fires started.
What is Firewise?
Firewise Communities/USA provides residents with the knowledge necessary to maintain an acceptable level of fire readiness, with the goal being minimal damage to homes from an approaching wildfire if no fire suppression resources are present. A wildfire mitigation specialist, such as a county ranger, meets with communities to develop a plan on how to eliminate or reduce fire hazards and create an “ignition-free” area around homes. Mitigation techniques can be implemented no matter how old the community is or during the planning process, before the first house is ever built.
If you look around and see the vast acres of timber, you can see why North Carolina could be at risk. It’s not just the mountains that face danger; we all do.
North Carolina ranks first in the nation for the number of acres of wildland urban interface areas. That’s a fancy term for where homes and structures meet forested areas. It also ranks fifth nationally for the number of homes within the WUI — conditions exist which amplify the possibility of losing a number of homes to wildfires.
The drought North Carolina has weathered only makes a dangerous situation worse.
But instead of worrying about it or ignoring the threat, a few simple steps can mitigate the threat.
Planners consider a number of factors, and some are just common sense. Fire spreads more rapidly on even minor slopes. So, building on the most level portion of the land will provide more protection. The steeper the slope, the more distance is needed between flammable fuels and the structure.
Also consider that a well-maintained driveway that is wide enough to provide easy access for fire engines with ample turnaround space near the house is also recommended. Another suggestion is to create fire breaks with driveways or gravel areas. Also maintaining a well-irrigated area at least 30 feet on all sides of a structure goes a long way.
The primary goal in designing or renovating any structure is fuel and exposure reduction. Using noncombustible construction materials for roof coverings will greatly reduce the risk of a structure catching fire. Homeowners may consider using masonry or metal as protective barriers between a fence and house if attaching an all-wood fence to the structure.
To create a Firewise landscape, homeowners, community leaders and planners need to remember that the primary goal is fuel reduction, removing anything that will allow the home to ignite. Recommendations for creating a Firewise community include designing, installing and maintaining Firewise landscaping. Suggestions include taking out the “ladder fuels” or the vegetation that serves as a link between grass or surface fuel and tree tops that can carry fire onto a structure. Don’t allow combustible materials and debris to accumulate beneath patio decks or elevated porches and keep gutters, eaves and roofs clear of leaves and other debris. Anywhere that windblown leaves and debris collects is also where windblown embers and sparks will land during a wildfire.
Make periodic inspections of your home, looking for deterioration such as breaks and spaces between roof tiles, warping wood or cracks and crevices in the structure. Clear deadwood and dense vegetation at a distance of at least 30 feet from your house.
All the suggestions sound simple enough, but following them could be the difference between enjoying your home and losing it.