How to protect your home from wildfires before they start

AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. — Wildfires are inevitable and sometimes you have to leave your home if one gets too close.

There are ways to protect your house from a fire and reduce your chances of losing the things you cherish most. It starts with creating defensible space — a buffer between your house and things like trees on your property.

“You get in the light, flashy fuels — your grasses and stuff — and then they get to the trees and they start your flames and start creeping up your trees, and then all of a sudden your trees and stuff are on fire,” said Deputy Chief Don Malone with Spokane County Fire District 10.

Firefighters suggest to keep trees at least 30 feet away from your home to give it enough defensible space to protect it.

“If they’re 30 feet away that typically allows that space for that flame impingement from your house so you’re not directly against your home,” Malone said. “Your home’s not getting that direct flame impingement from that tree.”

Though you keep the trees away from your home, there are other steps you should take. Malone says you can start getting rid of branches — or ‘limbing’ them up.

“By limbing up trees, your fire basically passes through this tree, gets some charring on the tree,” Malone explained. “But it’s not there long enough to actually ignite the tree and that’s why these latter fuels are so important when it comes to clearing those out.”

While you are getting rid of those limbs, Chief Ken Johnson with Fire District 10 said to think about getting rid of some trees close together. He said if a bundle is battling for nutrients, some could die and be at risk of catching fire.

One thing to keep in mind that you may forget about — embers from a fire. They can travel up to a mile, especially with the wind we get.

“A very important factor for homeowners is to really get those pine needles and those gutters cleaned out because like I was talking about with the embers, those are the things catching your house on fire,” Malone said.

Also, get rid of the dead branches and other vegetation from your roof and the ground. It also has the potential of catching your house on fire.

“Those embers are the ones that are sitting in that ground and then they get the right combination of that air flow and stuff and then it just ignites those,” Malone explained.

Though it may seem obvious, keep your grass green and trimmed. It won’t ignite as fast if a fire gets closer to your home.

If you happen to be in an evacuation zone, Malone said you should bring in any patio furniture. Embers can attach to those and spark a fire.

Wood piles are another form of defensible space. Keeping them 100 feet away from your home can protect it.

“If it does ignite, not having that radiant heat or those embers have a less of a potential to spread to your house,” Malone said.

Once you get rid of the trees, branches and other vegetation there are ways to throw it away properly.

Johnson said you can bring in a machine to chip up the wood.

“If we chip this pile up and it’s in a chip pile, or a masticator pile, the fires doesn’t have the oxygen underneath to fuel that fire and keep it hot,” he explained.

He suggests to not burn the pile, especially because of the burn restrictions already in effect. Some bigger piles require a permit from the Department of Natural Resources.

Johnson said one thing you do not want to do is let the pile sit there.

“If this sits through the summer, it could be susceptible to a burn,” Johnson said.

We all want to protect the people and things we love. Having defensible space during wildfire season is a way to do that.

Fire districts are here to help you. If you’re looking to learn more about defensible space and how to protect your home, firefighters in your neighborhood will come out and assess your home. They’ll educate you on what you can do to clean up your property, ultimately making your home safer from a wildfire.