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Knowing the Basics: Wildfire Prevention

Statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) show that in 2012, nearly 68,000 wildfires occurred in the United States, burning more than 9 million acres. Of these fires, 14 percent were started by lightning while 86 percent were caused by humans.

Wildfires can occur in forests, grasslands and brush, and need fuel, heat and oxygen to occur. A wildfire can get fuel from vegetation, buildings and other materials; heat can come from lightning or human sources, and wind supplies the oxygen. During a wildfire, flaming embers, radiant heat and direct contact with the fire can all pose threats to your building. Windblown flaming embers pose the greatest threat as these can be carried up to one mile ahead of the actual flames.

Know Your Risk for Wildfire

The National Interagency Fire Center provides a four-month forecast for wildfire potential that is updated on a monthly basis. If your church or church camp is located in wildfire prone areas, it is critical to take steps to lessen your exposures to this risk. To see these reports and to find out the wildfire forecast for your location, click here.

Controlling Fuel Sources

The most effective method to protect your building from a wildfire is to control the fuel sources around your building:

  • Clear leaves, needles and other debris from the roof, eaves and gutters, as well as decks, porches and the building’s foundation.
  • Limit the vegetation (grass, plants and trees) up to 200 feet from the building. For complete details on this, refer to the Firewise Guide to Landscape and Construction booklet.
  • Relocate any above ground propane tanks to at least 30 feet from any buildings.
  • Move stacked wood at least 30 feet from any buildings.

Controlling Human Ignition Sources

You can’t control Mother Nature and lightning-ignited wildfires are going to occur. However, we can control the human causes of igniting wildfires including:

  • Do not have a campfire on dry, windy days. Never leave campfires unattended. Keep water and a shovel on hand to extinguish the fire completely before leaving, making sure everything is wet and cold to the touch.
  • Dispose of smoking materials properly. 
  • Avoid setting hot chainsaws, or other gas-powered equipment that will have hot mufflers, in dry grass.
  • Any gasoline-powered engines, including lawn mowers, trimmers, chain saws and tractors, should be provided with spark arrestors.
  • Charcoal grills only should be used over fireproof surfaces, and grilling should not take place on dry, windy days.
  • Spark arrestors should be placed over any flue openings on chimneys and stovepipes with openings less than 1/8 inches. 
  • Store gasoline and other flammable liquids in UL-listed fire cans.

Additional Items

Consider taking these additional precautions when dealing with wildfires:

  • Close all windows during a wildfire. If windows are closed, embers cannot enter the structure.
  • Use 1/8-inch mesh metal screen beneath porches, decks, floor areas, and the structure itself. Any openings to the roof and attic used for venting should be protected as well.
  • Seal any roof openings that are not used for venting and enclose the eaves on your roof.
  • Ensure that there is adequate accessibility by fire vehicles to your property.

Protecting Your Property

Wildfires spread quickly, igniting brush, trees, and buildings. By incorporating the safeguards listed above, you can reduce your property exposure to wildfires. For additional resources on wildfires, please visit the following links:

© 2021 The GuideOne Center for Risk Management, LLC. All rights reserved.This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.