Many homeowners move to Florida for the sunshine, the nature and the warm climate. But what many Floridians don’t know is that these features are also ideal conditions for wildfire, and Florida experiences on average the second highest number of wildfires in the U.S.
Every year thousands of acres of Florida wildland and numerous homes are destroyed by wildfires caused by factors including arson, lightning and burning debris.
Here are some important steps you should take to defend your home against Florida wildfires:
Create a “Defensible Space”
Studies show that most homes are ignited by flaming debris within the immediate surrounding space. One of the most effective ways to protect your home from wildfire is to create a “defensible space” – a safely landscaped area around your home.
By maintaining a defensible space within 30 feet around your home, you can significantly reduce the risk of wildfire damage.
It’s important to keep your backyard:
- Lean — limited amounts of flammable vegetation
- Clean — no accumulations of dead vegetation
- Green — plants are healthy and green; lawn is properly irrigated
Is Your Landscaping Firewise?
While landscaping your yard, consider implementing these safety measures:
- Avoid highly flammable plants with resinous sap and waxy leaves. These include:
- Saw palmetto
- Wax myrtle
- Red cedar
- Young pine trees
- Prune trees so that the lowest limbs are at least 6-10 feet above the ground.
- Store wood at least 50 feet away from your home.
- Consider using stone instead of mulch around shrubbery within 5 feet of your home.
- Trim trees so that the crowns (tops) are at least 10 feet apart.
Choose Fire-Resistant Materials
While not common in Florida, wood shake and wood shingle roofs pose a significant fire hazard. These materials are highly flammable and, when exposed to flames or embers, will quickly ignite and can go airborne, increasing the chance of wildfire spreading to other homes. When constructing or replacing your roof, consider using Class A asphalt/fiberglass shingles, sheet metal, terra cotta tile, or concrete.
When exposed to heat or fire, vinyl soffits soften and fall away from the roof, allowing embers to enter the attic and start a fire. To help maintain the structural integrity of soffits when exposed to heat or fire, consider installing metal screening or hardware cloth under them. For added protection, soffits should be constructed out of non-combustible materials with ½-inch nominal wood sheathing.
Windows are one of the primary entry points for wildfire. Intense heat can shatter large windows, allowing embers to enter the home. To make your home more fire-resistant, consider installing smaller windows with double-paned glass, or even better, tempered glass. Avoid using large, single-pane windows if possible.
Avoid Combustible Situations
Certain situations increase the likelihood of wildfire near your home. Never park your vehicle in dry grass if a fire watch or warning has been issued. Exhaust systems are extremely hot and can ignite the dry grass.
Move combustible or flammable materials away from your house and store them in approved safety containers. Keep gas grills and propane tanks at least 15 feet away from your home and keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case of emergency.
Don’t Wait – Check the Date!
Only a small percentage of people know how old their smoke alarms are or how often they need to be replaced. Is your smoke alarm up to date?
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers the following guidelines to ensure that your smoke alarms are properly working in the event of a fire in your home:
- Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years.
- Make sure you know how old all the smoke alarms are in your home.
- To find out how old a smoke alarm is, look at the date of manufacture on the back of the alarm; the alarm should be replaced 10 years from that date.
Wildfires can cause massive amounts of destruction, but by taking sufficient precautions you can significantly reduce the risk of your home going up in flames.