Homeowners can and must take primary responsibility for wildfire safety actions around their home. According to fire science research, individual efforts do make a difference even in the face of a wildfire.

The Firewise Communities Program provides homeowners with simple and easy steps to help reduce a home’s wildfire risk by preparing ahead of a wildfire. These steps are rooted in principles based on solid fire science research into how homes ignite. The research comes from the world’s leading fire experts and research organizations whose experiments, models, and data collection are based on some of the country’s worst wildland fire disasters.

Sisters Country has nine Firewise communities at this time, with two more to be certified shortly.  The Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District works closely with Project Wildfire in helping interested communities go through the steps necessary to become a Firewise community.  Becoming a Firewise community not only makes your neighborhood more wildfire resilient, but also opens up opportunities for possible grants to help with the cost of mitigation projects.  In addition, in the future there may be decreased insurance rates for homeowners in Firewise communities.  

When it comes to wildfire risk, it is not a geographical location, but a set of conditions that determine the home’s ignition potential in any community. Wildfire behavior is influenced by three main factors: topography (lie of the land), weather (wind speed, relative humidity and ambient temperature) and fuel (vegetation and man-made structures). In the event of extreme wildfire behavior, extreme weather conditions are normally present, like extended drought, high winds, low humidity and high temperatures, coupled with excess fuel build-up including the accumulation of live and dead vegetation material. Additionally, the area’s topography influences the fire’s intensity and rate of spread.

Of these three factors, fuel is the only one we can influence.

Debris like dead leaves and pine needles left on decks, in gutters and strewn across lawns can ignite from embers. Fire moving along the ground’s surface can “ladder” into shrubs and low-hanging tree limbs to create longer flames and more heat. If your home has flammable features or vulnerable openings, it can also serve as fuel for the fire, and become part of a disastrous chain of ignitions to other surrounding homes and structures.

A home’s ignition risk is determined by its immediate surroundings, or its “home ignition zone,” and the home’s construction materials. According to fire science research and case studies, it’s not where a home is located that necessarily determines ignition risk, but the landscape around it, often referred to as the “home ignition zone.” The home ignition zone is defined as the home and its immediate surroundings up to 100 feet (30 meters).

Home Zone — the home itself and within five feet of the foundation: Harden your home against wildfire. This includes fences, decks, porches and other attachments. From a fire-behavior point of view, if it’s attached to the house it is a part of the house. Non-flammable or low-flammability construction materials — especially for roofs, siding and windows — are recommended for new homes or retrofits. Keep any flammables, including plantings, debris and mulch, out of the area within five feet of your home’s foundation as well as off your roof, eave lines, gutters and deck or porch surfaces. Ensure vents and other openings are screened or otherwise protected from ember penetration during a wildfire.

5 to 30 feet: This well-irrigated area around the home includes decks and fences, and provides space for fire suppression equipment in the event of an emergency. Lawns should be well maintained and mowed. Plantings should be limited to carefully spaced low-flammability species, and consider hardscaping using rocks, gravel or stone instead of mulch. Keep any large fuel packages, such as firewood piles, out of this area.

30 to 100 feet: Low-flammability plant materials should be used here. Plants should be low-growing and the irrigation system should extend into this section. Create separation between grasses, shrubs and trees to avoid a “fuel ladder” effect where fire can climb into taller vegetation. Trees should be spaced to prevent crowns from touching.

100+ feet: Place low-growing plants and well-spaced trees in this area, remembering to keep the volume of vegetation (fuel) low.

Your home ignition zone extends up to 100 feet — and it’s quite common to have neighbors whose home ignition zone overlaps yours. Once a structure is engulfed in flames, it could ignite other structures located less than 100 feet away. In addition, many communities have commonly owned property, including natural or wooded areas that can pose fire risks to all. This means that to be most effective, neighbors need to work together and with their local fire service to achieve greater wildfire safety.

If you would like more information on making your neighborhood a Firewise neighborhood, or would like a wildfire assessment of your property, contact Doug Green, Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District Fire Safety Manager, at the Sisters Fire Department, 541-549-0771; dgreen@sistersfire.com.