ARE YOU FIRE WISE?
Wildfires are a concern in Douglas County because most of the natural landscape is composed of plant communities that evolved with fire, such as Ponderosa pine and Gambel oak. As more of these natural areas are developed the risk of potential loss of life, property and of natural resources by a catastrophic wildfire increases.
Protecting your home and property from wildfire is your responsibility. Don’t assume fire fighters can save every home. Resources are limited and conditions may be too dangerous to protect structures.
Knowing how to protect structures in wildfire hazard areas can reduce the impacts of an oncoming wildfire. When designing and building a home in a hazardous area, evaluate driveway access, choose a fire-wise location, choose fire-resistive building materials, and create and maintain a defensible space around your home.
- Provide safe and reasonable access for emergency vehicles. Long and steep or winding driveways could be a problem for some emergency vehicles when you need them most.
- Clearly post your address, visible from both directions, at the road to avoid delays in locating your property. Address signs should be constructed out of non-flammable material with reflective numbers and letters.
- Avoid locked gates whenever possible or make sure your local fire district has a key or the code to your gate to enable their access in an emergency.
- If your driveway is long, provide a place for emergency vehicles to easily turn around so they don’t have to try to back down.
Fire Wise Location
Carefully plan and choose a building site for your home and any accessory structures. The ability of your structure to survive a fire depends on the choices you make.
- Choose a building site on the most level portion of the lot.
- Choose a site on your lot that is not heavily vegetated.
- Avoid natural chimneys and draws.
- Set your home a minimum of 100 feet back from a ridge or cliff.
Fire-Resistive Building Materials
The roof is often one of the most vulnerable parts of your home. Flying embers can easily land on roofs and ignite debris that has accumulated, especially in the gutters, such as pine needles that collect because of limbs overhanging the roof.
- Choose class A or B type roofing material such as asphalt shingles, concrete tile, or metal.
- Choose a fire-resistive exterior such as stone, stucco, or products that are composed of similarly non-flammable materials such as cementatious siding.
- Minimize window exposure to reduce effects of radiant heat.
- Do not store or pile combustible material, such as firewood, under decks.
- Cover attic, soffit and floor vents with wire mesh no larger than 1/4 of an inch.
- Build decks so they are not at the top of hills and thus in a direct line of a fire. Decks are the other most vulnerable area in many homes because they are typically situated to make the most of views, in other words, overlooking hillsides. Fires always burn uphill if they can, and decks have been known to burn more readily than the surrounding forest!
- Provide a minimum of 10 to 15 feet clearance immediately surrounding the structure. If you replant in this area, use fire resistant species.
- Reduce the fuel loading around your home and throughout your property.
- Remove “ladder fuels.” These are smaller fuels, such as branches and scrub oak, directly under larger fuels, such as trees. Fuels like this would provide a “ladder” for fire to spread. This is most commonly brush, like Gambel oak and limbs within 10 feet of the ground. Once a fire gets into the tops (crowns) of trees it is impossible to stop and will kill the tree.
- Maintain a minimum clearance of 10 feet between trees and shrubs: “Some must go so some can grow!”
- Remove tree limbs to a height of 10 feet above the ground.
- Maintain a grass height of 4” or less for native grasses.
- Remove all dead and dying trees. Once a pine tree turns brown it is probably dead: “If it’s brown, take it down!”
Additional Fire-wise Tips
- Use rocks or other non-flammable material for landscaping under decks.
- Stack firewood uphill or on the same elevation as your home.
- Place propane tanks at the same elevation, or downhill, from your home. Propane is heavier than air, meaning if a tank above your home leaks, the gas will flow like water to your home.
- Clean pine needles from roofs and gutters regularly. Better yet, remove all limbs that overhang your roof.
Resources for homeowners/ landowners and communities, as well as Firewise Construction.
This fact sheet was produced in cooperation with the Colorado State Forest Service.
1Wildfire Hazard Mitigation Coordinator, Colorado State Forest Service.
The Pikes Peak Wildfire Prevention Partners is a consortium of wildfire professionals, wildfire mitigation contractors, agency representatives and homeowners dedicated to providing awareness of the wildfire risk in El Paso, Douglas and Teller counties in Colorado. The group's mission is accomplished through the effective and efficient education, cooperation and coordination of available resources of the membership.
Wildland fire is inevitable in North American ecosystems. Most wildland fire must be suppressed to meet resource and social objectives. Wise use of fire approximates the historical role of fire and enhances long-term wildland values. Effectively managing forest fuels and dealing with wildfires requires coordination between the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, other agencies, and communities.