Lake Tahoe, Calif./Nev. – Cooler temperatures and changing colors of the leaves remind us that autumn has arrived, but keep in mind that fire danger is very high this time of year. Vegetation that can feed a wildfire has had all summer to dry out and is ready to burn. Fall provides the perfect opportunity to check areas where burning embers might accumulate near your home or on your property during a wildfire. The places where pine needles and leaves pile up also tend to be where embers would accumulate during a fire.
Why worry about embers now? Because wildfire can occur any time of the year, and embers are the primary source of ignitions that result in home destruction during wildfire. During a wildfire, thousands of embers can rain down on your roof and pelt the side of your home like hail during a storm. If these embers come in contact with material that is easily ignited on or near your house, the home will be in jeopardy of burning. A 2008 Australian study estimated that fire starts from embers resulted in 90 percent of all homes lost during a wildfire event.
Common materials that become embers during wildfire include pine cones, shrub and tree branches, bark, and building materials from burning houses. Depending on fire intensity, wind speed and the size and height of materials that are burning, embers can be carried more than a mile ahead of the fire. Consequently, even homes located blocks away from the actual flame front are vulnerable to ignition and complete destruction.
By being prepared and taking action ahead of time, a homeowner can substantially reduce the ember threat. Once you’ve identified the areas where leaves and pine needles pile up, remove them and any other flammable materials from those areas. Additional tips to help your home survive an ember storm are presented below.
- Keep rain gutters and roofs free of pine needles and other flammable debris.
- Move your firewood pile at least 30 feet away from the house.
- Remove pine needles and other plant debris from the cracks between deck boards. Clean flammable debris from the deck surface.
- Do not store combustible materials under the deck and enclose deck sides with one-quarter inch or smaller wire mesh to prevent debris from accumulating underneath.
- Cover attic and foundation vents with one-eighth inch wire mesh or install ember resistant vents. More vent area may be needed since the mesh may reduce the required amount of airflow.
- Create a noncombustible area at least five feet wide around the base of the house using gravel, rock, concrete, irrigated lawn or irrigated herbaceous plants.
- Avoid planting evergreen shrubs, such as juniper, adjacent to the house, in front or below vent openings or in front of windows.
- Do not use wood or bark mulches near homes, especially wood-sided houses.
- Replace single-pane windows with windows that are at least double-paned.
- Remove dead vegetation and weeds from around the home.
- Replace wood shake and shingle roofs with fire-rated types, preferably Class “A”, such as composition, cement tile and metal.
- Use concrete or mortar to plug roof openings, such as the open ends of barrel tiles and gaps between tiles along the ridge.
This fall, we encourage you to Prepare Now – Wildfire Knows No Season and learn about the Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities, a program that brings communities together with the resources they need to work toward becoming fire adapted to reduce their wildfire threat.
For more information on preparing your home and property to survive wildfire and to learn more about the Tahoe Network, visit tahoe.livingwithfire.info.
About the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team
The Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team (TFFT) consists of representatives of Tahoe Basin fire agencies, CAL FIRE, Nevada Division of Forestry and related state agencies, University of California and Nevada Cooperative Extensions, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the U.S. Forest Service, conservation districts from both states, the California Tahoe Conservancy and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board. Our Mission is to protect lives, property and the environment within the Lake Tahoe Basin from wildfire by implementing prioritized fuels reduction projects and engaging the public in becoming a Fire Adapted Community.
For more information, visit tahoetfft.org