Wildfire Corner: Protecting your Home from Wildfire

home survived wildfire
Fire prevention steps, including several recommended by the national Firewise program, helped to spare this eastern Washington home from wildfire in 2012.

Pine needles, dry leaves, a recycle bin full of newspaper, dead plants. What do these items have in common? They can easily start on fire from a single ember.

Embers are small pieces of burning material that are carried into the air during a wildfire and can be carried over a mile before they fall to the ground. If these embers land on some dead leaves, dead needles, newspaper, cardboard or any other flammable material, they may start another fire. If this happens on your deck, roof or next to your house, that small ember could start a fire that grows and ignites your house.

Typically during a wildfire, the ember shower can spread more than a mile ahead of the main fire front. This exposes homes to the wildfire even when the smoke is still in the distance. Often, the ember shower is accompanied by high winds that blow the embers sideways. Embers going sideways instead of falling from the sky can slip under decks, porches and other places to start your home on fire.

Homeowners can take some simple steps to reduce the chances that an ember will start a fire on or next to their home.

Vents in soffits, eaves, crawlspaces and elsewhere — look for any opening around your house where an ember could possible slip through and start a fire. Make sure these vents are screened with 1/8-inch mesh.

  • Doors — even on outbuildings — should be tight fitting with no gaps around the frame.
  • Flowerboxes — keep them watered with healthy plants. Remove dried up, dead foliage.
  • Woodpiles — keep them at least 30 feet from structures.
  • Roof and rain gutters — inspect to make sure they are free of leaves, conifer needles and other burnable debris.
  • Decks and porches — install screen, siding or other material to prevent embers from blowing underneath.
  • Garbage cans and recycling bins — don’t leave them open and filled with paper or other flammable material. Use tight-fitting lids that will not blow off during the high winds typical around large wildfires.

Finally, before you leave on a summer or early fall vacation, do a fire safety check around your house at the same time that you do a security check. Look for items that could be ignited by an ember and move them away from your house.

These simple steps may help your home survive an ember shower from the next wildfire.

Click here to get more information on Be Ember Aware or call your local fire district or Washington State Department of Natural Resources office.

  • Northeast Region Office, Colville: 509-684-7474
  • Southeast Region Office, Ellensburg: 509-925-8510
  • Western Washington: 360-902-1391
  • Firewise tips and contacts on the Washington DNR website
  • Firewise Communities: a national non-profit that brings neighbors together to reduce their community’s wildfire risks