Alison Arnold: Becoming More 'Fire Aware'

Dec 7, 2016

Fire has been on the minds of many in western North Carolina over the past several weeks as wildfires swept across the region.  In her commentary this week, WCQS gardening expert Alison Arnold has some tips on how to protect the home against fires.  

Jeremy Loeb: Although the rain in recent days may ease the risk of wildfire potential across the western part of the state we aren’t out of the clear yet. It seems like a good time though to become more “fire aware”  - not only about prevention and protection but also the benefits of fire.

Alison Arnold: Absolutely… I know it’s a challenging statement to say that “not all fire is bad” given what has happened in recent weeks but in fact “prescribed burning” is used as a management tool, under very controlled conditions of course, to utilize what is a very natural process. Controlled or prescribed burning on a regular basis reduces the potential for destructive wildfires by burning to remove built up dead fuel of wood and leaves on the forest floor. This prevents a much hotter fire that would otherwise burn up crowns of trees and be very destructive. It’s also helps with air quality and very much helps with overall health of the ecosystem – plants and animals alike.

JL: What is important right now for people to know about reducing risk for new fires?

AA:  It’s really really important for everyone to do whatever they can to prevent new fires… even though we’ve had rain it can be dry under dense trees and shrubs… So Not dumping wood ashes or burning leaves are good starting places. And of course if you burn wood to heat.. make sure chimneys have spark arresters.. A spark arrestor is basically a chimney cap with metal mesh around it.

JL: What else can residents do to reduce the risk of fire to their home?

AA: Modifying the home and its immediate surroundings can reduce wildfire threat. The idea is If it can catch fire, don’t let it touch your house, deck or porch. Start by removing any flammable material within 30 feet of the home’s foundation and outbuildings, including garages and sheds. Things like firewood stacks, brush piles, dead grasses and other vegetation… even propane tanks and wood or flammable garden furniture should be removed from under the deck or porch as well as leaves and other debris that can collect in these areas in addition to the gutters and eaves. Screening or boxing-in areas below porches and decks with wire mesh can certainly keep combustible materials from accumulating there.

JL: What about trees that are close to the house?

AA: Fire can easily spread to tree tops and so pruning trees that are close to the house so the lowest branches are 6 to 10 feet from the ground is good.

JL: And then what about choosing heat- and flame-resistant construction materials?

AA: For sure.. when renovating or doing new construction for any kind of structure especially in heavily wooded lots consider heat- and flame-resistant materials for decks, porches and fences. The most protective roofing materials will be rated class-a, including asphalt shingles and metal, cement and concrete products.

We will be hearing more how we all can work together to plan and prepare for woodland wildfire.. in the meantime visit Firewise.org to learn more.