Wildfires are a great danger to people, homes, and other structures in drier regions where fire season strikes. Wildfires incinerate about 7.5 million acres per year in the U.S., torching an average of 14,000 structures. It’s an enormous loss, which sometimes can be controlled by advanced planning before fires show up and quick action when they do.
Accidental indoor fires bring other dangers, such as electrocution hazards, poor air quality, and smoke damage. Here, we’ll see how to prepare your house, inside and out, for fires and smoke.
Fire Prevention Tips
Regular maintenance of your property will help slow the spread of a wildfire and possibly save your home or neighbors’. These tips apply anywhere, as it doesn’t take a large blaze to burn down a house — just flames.
How To Prevent Fire Outside
- Clean out gutters and install gutter screens to prevent leaf accumulation.
- Clear all underbrush, dead leaves, and twigs within 5 feet of the home, and trim away tree branches that overhang the roof.
- Remove construction debris, old propane tanks, firewood, and flammable items from within the 5-foot perimeter.
- Cut down and dispose of dead trees throughout your property; they make great torches. Sweep away leaves and debris from the bases of living trees.
- Keep one or more long garden hoses, at least 100 feet, attached to outside spigots to help wet down roofs, walls, and grass during fire threats. A spray head is recommended for each hose.
How To Prevent Fire Inside
- Keep several fire extinguishers on hand to suppress accidental fires quickly.
- Make sure that all of your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are working; check the batteries at least once a year.
- Examine the door from your garage leading into the home — it should be a fire-rated door (check with your municipality for local fire codes), and you should replace it if it isn’t.
Know Your Fire Extinguisher
There are five classes of fire extinguishers. It’s important to know which class can be used on a given fire. Using the wrong type, such as spraying a water-filled extinguisher on an electrical fire, is very dangerous! Most home improvement stores sell a multiclass extinguisher that can handle common household incidents such as wood, grease, gasoline, and electrical blazes.
Smoke Air Quality
The Environmental Protection Agency says tiny particles floating in fire smoke, such as black carbon, carry the greatest danger of respiratory distress during a fire. Consider using a HEPA filter for your home if you live in a fire-prone area, and add an air quality monitor to your fire- and smoke-awareness arsenal. Keep some N95 masks on hand in case fires pop up in your area — even if they don’t get close to your house, poor air quality can extend dozens of miles away from a large fire. Inspect weather stripping around doors and windows, and replace or repair as necessary to ensure a tight seal.
How To Keep Wildfire Smoke Out of Your House
Limiting time outdoors and keeping an eye on your indoor air quality are just a few ways to stay healthy during fire season. Here are some tips to keep wildfire smoke out of your house, the basic strategy is to seal any gaps where air might seep in:
- Close off bathroom and microwave air ducts — cut cardboard squares to fit and tape them over each of the vent openings.
- Run a strip of painter’s tape around all exterior doors; it provides a decent seal and won’t damage the finish. Avoid using duct tape, as it may damage the paint.
- Stuff wet towels around the bottom and top of the garage door(s) from the inside, and repeat the masking tape procedure on the left and right sides of the door.
- Turn off the heat or air conditioning.
How To Clear Smoke From Your House
Smoke can enter your home and linger for hours after a fire, making the air unsafe to breathe. Here are some tips to get rid of fire smoke and improve the smoke air quality, which apply to outdoor smoke, as well as accidental fires within your home:
- Remove tape and rags from windows and doors.
- Clear bathroom and microwave vents.
- Open the windows and exterior doors in affected portions of the home. Otherwise, keep the windows closed and replace all filters, get an air purifier, and try to stay indoors until the outdoor air quality has improved.
- Leave doors and windows closed in smoke-free areas of the structure. Place moist towels under the doors in smoke-free areas as an air stop.
- Do not turn on the heater or air conditioning! This will spread smoke through the entire structure.
- Place box fans in windows or doorways, and aim them outward to drive the smoke away.
Wind shifts are another important thing to keep in mind. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, the outdoor air may be clear of smoke, but your home may have some trapped, lingering wildfire smoke inside it. By tracking the wind shifts, you can better know when it's safe to open windows and clear the air to improve indoor air quality or when to keep them shut and rely on your air purifier.
Stay Ahead of the Danger
The National Weather Service will issue a Fire Weather Watch or Red Flag Warning when elevated fire risk takes shape. A quality home weather station can help you gauge fire conditions, such as wind, relative humidity, and temperature, right where you are. It’s especially important to monitor your AcuRite weather information because sudden wind shifts, drops in relative humidity, or increases in temperature may indicate fires in the area even if you cannot see smoke. You can also check wind shifts from your weather station to identify when the smoke will clear.
Of course, fire situations change and you need to remain vigilant any time fires are flaring. Stay alert and stay safe!
Steve LaNore is a certified broadcast meteorologist with more than 30 years of forecasting and technical experience. He has provided meteorological consulting for everything from insurance adjusters to court cases and is a nine-time award-winning author and broadcaster. LaNore has authored two books, available on Amazon. He resides in north Texas near beautiful Lake Texoma.