Fire mitigation: ways to protect your home

Our community has faced a lot of destruction over the past 14 months as a result of the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. While these have been challenging times, the community response — especially from our firefighters, law enforcement personnel and the military — was commendable and makes me proud to be a Colorado Springs resident.

With so many USAA members who reside in the area, I’ve seen firsthand the damage that these fires can cause. But there are some basic steps that residents can take now to significantly reduce damage from a wildfire in the future.

1. Keep tinder at bay.

If a home has an open foundation or a deck without skirting, embers or fire can spread underneath the surface.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends regularly clearing leaves and other debris from gutters, eaves, porches and decks, as well as keeping lawns irrigated and mowed.

2. Prepare the landscape.

Look at your home as three zones and follow these recommendations provided by the Insurance Institute for Business & Safety:

• Within five feet adjacent to your home, make sure to keep plants and grasses pruned and cut or avoid leafy plants that fall to the ground. Use rock and gravel, instead of wood, bark or rubber mulches, as it’s crucial to keep any item that could fuel a fire at least five feet from your home’s foundation.

• Between five and 30 feet around your home, keep your trees and dead branches pruned, and be sure to separate trees and shrubs so they don’t touch. Remove debris, firewood or lumber that is stored under your deck or next to other structures near your home. It’s also a good idea to remove boats and trailers that could catch fire and cause the flames to spread.

• Within 30 to 100 feet from your home, or to the property line: A noncombustible retaining wall can help protect your home if it’s located on steep terrain. It’s also important to remove dead vegetation and increase the separation between trees and shrubs. Mowing your lawn regularly and smart storage of flammable liquids are also recommended.

3. Retrofit your home.

If you’re in a fire-prone region, consider each element of your home’s design to determine your risk and what you can do to mitigate it. FLASH, IBHS and Firewise offer this advice for each component:

• Roof. A roof is typically rated Class A, Class B or Class C or is unrated. IBHS recommends using roof coverings with a Class A fire rating, including asphalt fiberglass composition shingles, concrete or clay tiles, and steel or copper.

• Openings to the attic. Airborne embers can enter attics through open eaves or vents. Cover vent openings with 1/8-inch metal screen.

• Exterior walls. Make sure the material is ignition-resistant or noncombustible. These include masonry, stucco, brick or fiber cement siding — as vinyl siding can melt.

• Windows. Tempered or multi-paned glass performs better than single-paned glass.

• Foundations and decks. If a home has an open foundation or a deck without skirting, embers or fire can spread underneath the structure. IBHS recommends adding noncombustible skirting around a home with an open foundation and venting that complies with the local building code. Install a metal screen to guard the underside of such structures, and don’t build a deck at the top of a hill, as wildfires tend to travel uphill. Be sure not to store any combustible materials under a deck.

• Chimneys. Install spark arrestors and have chimney interiors cleaned periodically.

• Connected structures. Combustible decks (wood and wood-plastic composite materials) and fences can ignite. If ignited, they can provide a pathway for the fire to reach your home. Ensure such attachments are made of ignition-resistant or noncombustible materials.

While nothing can guarantee 100 percent protection, these steps can help reduce the potential of wildfire damage to your home.

Our local fire departments in the greater Colorado Springs area are also an excellent resource to learn more about effective wildfire prevention measures.

We have success stories when a community embraces wildfire prevention programs like Firewise (www.firewise.com).

Neighbors who choose not to control the fuel loads around their properties put their neighbors at greater risk — so it’s very important that we work together to take these preventive steps.

The old saying is true — there is strength in numbers!

The bottom line is to be proactive and do what you can now, while this subject is top-of-mind … to give yourself peace of mind! For more wildfire protection tips, visit www.usaa.com.

Kent Fortune is vice president and general manager of USAA’s operations in Colorado Springs.