The location of a structure will influence the intensity and duration of the fire to which it is exposed. The surrounding topography and vegetation characteristics directly affect how fire will react and burn.
When choosing a suitable site for a new Firewise home, be sure to consider the slope of the terrain. Build on the most level portion of the property because fire spreads rapidly and with more intensity up slopes, even minor slopes. Be sure to set your new home at least 30 feet back away from any ridge or cliff to avoid the problem of a fire moving up the ridge or cliff and into your exposed home. For homes higher than one story, provide more room to the edge of the cliff.
Site suitability is also affected by natural vegetation. When beginning the design process, consider placing your house where the natural vegetation offers the best fire protection. Place your home near naturally fire resistive vegetation such as an aspen grove.
When remodeling or designing your Firewise structure, remember that the primary goals are fuel and exposure reduction. To accomplish this, use construction materials that are fire-resistive or non-combustible whenever possible.
For roof construction, consider using metal, cement or slate products, or class-A asphalt shingles. Constructing a fire-resistive sub-roof can add protection as well. Never use wood shingles because this greatly increases the risk of a fire ember and igniting the roof.
The exterior of the house should be constructed of fire resistive materials such as stucco or masonry. These materials are much more heat-resistive than vinyl, which can soften and melt when exposed to fire.
Consider both the size and material in windows. Smaller windows let less radiant heat into the house than larger windows. Double pane glass and tempered glass are more effective at reflecting heat than single pane glass windows are.
To prevent sparks from entering your home through vents, cover exterior attic vents with wire mesh no larger than 1/8 of an inch. Fire embers can collect in wind eddies under the eaves of your house, which can easily set your house on fire. Be sure to box in eaves, but provide adequate ventilation to prevent condensation in the attic.
The underside of decks attached to the house can provide a place for dry grass or sparks to ignite the house on fire. Be sure to skirt wood decks with non-flammable siding backed by wire screen. This will not only prevent a potential fire ignition source, but it will also keep animals out from under the deck.
Utilities may need to be turned off in the event of an evacuation. Be sure to allow clear access to the utilities and that the shut-off valves are clearly marked.
Propane Tanks should be stored at least 30 feet away from the house. If a wildfire spreads to the tank, it may explode. Be sure to remove all flammable material such as grass and shrubs within 15 feet of the LPG tank.
Firewood stacks can provide an easy path for fire to follow into the house. A stack of firewood can sustain fire for long periods of time. Firewood should be stacked at least 30 feet from the house. Try to stack it on the uphill side of the house or on a contour away from the house.
Outbuildings can also provide a heat source for an extended period of time. Be sure that the outbuilding cannot provide a means of ignition to the house. Use Firewise construction materials that are fire-resistive or non-combustible to build outbuildings.
Often roads and driveways in rural areas are steep, narrow, overgrown with flammable vegetation, and provide no opportunities for vehicles to pass or turn around. Not only does a well maintained and designed road provide for quicker and safer fire department access, but it also allows the homeowner better access to the house; and a quicker means of egress if an evacuation is ordered.
Be sure the name of your road is clearly marked and easily identifiable to responding fire trucks. Also, make sure that your house number is clearly posted. This will ensure they can find your home in an emergency.
Keep your driveways as short as possible, but also keep in mind that a large fire truck must be able to drive up the driveway. Do not make the driveway so steep as to prevent the fire truck access. Also, make sure to have plenty of room for a fire truck to turn around at the end of the road. If your driveway is longer than 150’ then be sure to provide driveway turnouts to allow traffic to pass each other.
Clear the vegetation back at least 15 feet on each side of the driveway. Prune large trees at least 18 feet high. Remove all limbs and branches that might inhibit fire department access.
Provide for at least two ways in and out of your property. That way if one road is blocked by fire, there will always be a secondary egress route available.
Bridges should be designed with heavy fire trucks in mind. Provide enough structural support to allow a fire truck to cross the bridge. The load limits for the bridge should be posted at both entrances of the bridge as well.
Fire department water supply is an integral part of home fire protection in rural areas. In remote subdivisions, water for refilling fire trucks is often unavailable which forces firefighters to return to town to refill their water supply. If your water comes from a well, it may be incapable of providing enough water for fire suppression efforts. Consider installing an emergency water supply that meets fire department standards. A permanent water source such as a cistern or underground water storage tank (dry hydrant) will greatly increase your home’s defensible capabilities against wildland fires.