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Fire Protection: safeguarding our home and property

 
pollinator
Posts: 393
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
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Wildfires, all over the world, seem to be becoming a more prevalent risk; most off grid homes do not have handy fire hydrants or are located where fire protection (fire departments) is sketchy to non existent - how do you protect your investment and safety?

Do you have smoke alarms and/or chemical fire extinguishers?

Woodstove/chimney safety?

Do you have an evacuation plan?

How will you evacuate/safeguard livestock?

Do you have water storage, pump, hoses to self defend or....?

Should we be building with fire safety in mind (metal roofs/siding vs wood)?

At what point, if any, does fire safety trump permaculture?

It seems that, most often, dealing with fire safety runs counter to permie philosophy - how do you balance this?

Logically, earth sheltered homes would be safer from external fire risk, but perhaps MORE dangerous if the fire were to occur internally.

Several years ago, our professionally built, inspected home suffered an electrical fire in the attic two years after we moved in. Although the damage was confined to a very small 4x4 foot area in the attic it required over 6 months to get the repairs done (through insurance):  new roof, new ceilings, new insulation, full rewire etc.  

We were fortunate to have "noticed" the odd noise, the very muffled sound of burning, that sounded like rain pattering on a tin roof (there was no smell, or visual indication of fire) - smoke alarms in the home did NOT detect it, no smoke alarms were required in the attic!

We also happen to be two blocks from the volunteer fire department AND have a hydrant very close by (that fortunately they did NOT have to use - they used foam so little to no water damage, but who knows about toxic gick!) and yet it cost tens of thousands of dollars in repairs and over six months off the property.

We and the animals were unscathed and we fortunately have local, tax funded fire protection...I fear the outcome would have been bankruptcy, harm to us and the animals and total loss of everything HAD we been in different circumstances.

Most of us do not have the financial wherewithal to recover from a fire; insurance for many is unavailable, local fire protection unavailable, and relocation impossible. Please think long and hard about this and how you can best protect your loved ones, the property, your hard work and your lifestyle.
 
Posts: 91
Location: Winters, California
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I am about to move onto a brand new property that was barely spared from the huge LNU Complex fire in northern California. Maintaining your landscaping so that you have "defensible space" is critical. Here is good information on that:
https://www.readyforwildfire.org/prepare-for-wildfire/get-ready/defensible-space/
http://www.vfpd.net/prevention/cdf-defens_space.pdf

Most of my neighbors are on wells, which require electricity to pump water up. The grid was down by the time everyone was evacuating. So if you want to be able to stay and protect your home, you need to have a generator ready to start up at a moment's notice (or be off grid, but very few if any are around here).

Some people stayed and were able to protect homes by using tractors to create firebreaks or spraying water if they had a generator. Others who stayed (or didn't get enough notice about the fire) had to be evacuated by emergency personnel, which severely hampered their ability to protect property. It's a dicey situation.

So having defensible space and fire-resistant landscaping, to minimize chances that a wildfire even reaches your house, is the most important thing.

It seems that, most often, dealing with fire safety runs counter to permie philosophy - how do you balance this?
It would have been nice to be able to plant deciduous trees on the south and west sides of the house, to provide shade in summer. Unfortunately fire safety trumps this, and my house will be fully exposed to sun. I'd rather pay more for a/c than risk losing it all in the next wildfire.

Then there's home maintenance, like using fire-resistant materials, keeping gutters clean/covered, and blocking eaves so airborne embers can't fly under and take hold.

For inside the house, I have an appropriate fire extinguisher in an easy to reach place in the kitchen, and smoke alarms.

Absolutely everyone should have emergency evacuation plans for themselves and their pets and livestock, tailored for whatever disaster they're likely to be exposed to locally.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1383
Location: Bendigo , Australia
88
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I have a lot if experience with what we call bushfires in Australia.

There are many theories from many experts about how to deal with bushfires.
As a Civil Engineer I have learnt to break the issue down into parts that everybody agrees on.
And them study different solutions for each issue.

Most people do not do that.
Lets start with this;
- What causes damage
Radiant heat, fire flame front, combustable materials, falling embers, broken windows
- Poor design of structure
 EMBER TRApS ON THE ROOF, unprotected weak windows, air gaps in the cladding or roof, wooden decks, nothing to prevent embers blowing under the house.
Completly unsuitable design for a fire prone area.
- Poor design of landscaping, location of structure on the property, or location of the district
 Structure located in natural firepaths. IE top of gully, top of hill,
- Lack of infrastructure
 No fire fighting water storage tanks at least 20,000L capacity and preferably 50,000l total storage or swimming pool.
 No sprinkler system to flood house and ground around the house, no petrol or diesel powered fire fighting pumps with adequate capacity.
Examples
Prepare for bushfire
I will get back later but other things to think of;
- Woolen clothing covering all skin
battery operated wireless or radio for information. Mobile phone towers always go down
- soak bath to keep clothes wet
- window screens which will not melt or blow in
- hand held fire hoes and fire rakes
- have vehicle prepared for escape, blankets inside, drinking water and plans for pets
- human refuge, underground or safe open area a long way from any vegetation
- animal refuge
- keep LPG, firewood away from house or shedding
- driveway design that allows vehicles to drive straight through so fire trucks dont get trapped
In my experience few take many precautions other than cleaning loose leaves around the property, they expect a phone call to tell them of the fire instead of learning how to find out yourself.
They have no fire plans, or predertimed escape route, they usually drive into a fire and perish.
Remember when there is a bushfire, smokes restricts visability, people are panicing, lots of peop[le have left too late so roads are packed and fire trucks cannot get through.
Accidents occur and roads get blocked and many people perish.
 
pollinator
Posts: 123
Location: Sierra Nevada Foothills, Zone 8b
23
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At what point, if any, does fire safety trump permaculture?



In my opinion, point zero.

But, I don't see a huge conflict of interest here. 100ft of space isn't all that hard to have while still practicing PC. In my defensible space are water collection tanks, a vegetable garden, flower beds, a tiny pond, a couple shrubs, bushes and fruit trees (not within "spreading distance"), storage sheds and the not yet operational chicken run. None of these raised the insurance inspectors hackles. Still, where I live if a "real" fire comes through there isn't going to be much anyone can do about it, defensible space or not

I sorta think that a well managed food forest is basically what you would get after a fire came through anyway. Good soil, healthy spacing and an effective succession system. Isn't that why the fire danger is so high and the forest health so low? No fire for 100 years? Just from looking at the difference between a well-developed food forest and the average (and also well-developed) tinderbox forest here in California keeps me working towards one of my own.
 
Posts: 41
Location: California Sierra Foothils, 2,500 ft. Elevation zone 8b-9a
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For home protection basics are clearing debris off your roof. If you have gutters (hopefully metal) install metal gutter guards. Plastic or vinyl gutters are highly flammable as are plastic gutter guards.

If you have a deck or a porch crawl space or just open below enclose with 1/8” hardware cloth (galvanized mesh), it keeps leaves from blowing in there. The hardware cloth also keeps flying embers out which are the main cause of houses burning down even with a defensible space. Embers or firebrands can travel over a mile.

Clean pine needles and leaves around the houses foundation.

Embers can also enter eave and gable vents through 1/4” metal hardware cloth, 1/4” is actually standard size in most stores. Buy some 1/8” mesh and cover over.

Make sure all your windows are closed before Evacuating.

I have a generator and a well. I have a small sprinkler ready to place on my wood deck. I’ve also read to leave some lights on in the house to ease firefighters locating your house because of low visibility due to smoke or darkness.

I’m in the Sierra foothills not far from the North complex fire and Jones fire which is now contained was only 10 miles away. The Jones fire destroyed 21 structures.

A couple of years I posted about why I bought a manufactured home. Another reason can be added. Hardi board siding and fascias. Also no eave vents or gable vents. All vents are capped roof vents.  I still haven’t checked to see what size metal mesh is on them. Didn’t think of that till I started this posting.

Stay safe, have an exit plan, a ditch bag, a livestock plan, and get all important papers or other things that important to you.
 
gardener
Posts: 1816
Location: southern Illinois.
414
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From my direction, if you live remotely, you cannot have too many fire extinguishers.    Years ago we had an old neighbor decide to burn the marijuana that was growing near the railroad track near his property. Of course, it was not on his property, it was not marijuana, and it was the dry season. I stepped outside to see a wall of flames headed my way. While my wife called the FD. I exhausted something like 17 fire extinguishers. The volunteer FD showed up after I got the flames on my property put out.  They still had plenty of work to do on some neighboring properties. I used the word neighbor loosely, the tracks were some distance away.
 
John C Daley
pollinator
Posts: 1383
Location: Bendigo , Australia
88
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Many people have no idea about bushfire safety.
It happens often that people accidently set a bushfire off because they lit a fire to burn rubbish or make a cup of tea on a very hot day with a screaming wind, usually with plenty of dry vegetation around.
Its beyond belief.

And that is not mentioning the firebug either who does it deliberately.

Its an issue that needs to be dealt with I guess by education from an early stage of life.

Instead of extinguishers would a network of adequate pipes, a firepump and fire nozzles drawing from a 20,000L tank be worth looking at ?
 
John F Dean
gardener
Posts: 1816
Location: southern Illinois.
414
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Hi John,

I think darned near anything would be of benefit when things go wrong.  I happened to have that many fire extinguishers due to being at the right place at the right time.  A business was tossing a number of expired fire extinguishers that I pulled out of their dumpster.  Some of those 17 were mine, but most were from the dumpster.   Of course, ever since then, I have kept a good supply.  I also have a pump with a 2 inch hose so my pond can be used if needed.  
 
John C Daley
pollinator
Posts: 1383
Location: Bendigo , Australia
88
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I guess if I found 17 extinguishers I would use them also.
I have used them with a few small fires, how do they compare with the firepump and nozzle system?
 
John F Dean
gardener
Posts: 1816
Location: southern Illinois.
414
composting toilet food preservation homestead
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I would much prefer pumped water under good volume and pressure.  I did not have a pump at the time... so I used what I had.
 
Posts: 818
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my neighbor had a type of ram pump attached to his 180' well in addition to the electric pump down in the well. it had a large lever on top of well pipe casing that could also be geared with a gas engine. just saying there are options out there these days.
he was quite the prepper and always thought of back up plans.
 
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