Making an earlier post about the slash piles left in my "neighbourhood", I wonder about what we would do if one dry summer we found ourselves in the path of something unstoppable. Has anyone experienced this? How can you set up your homestead to keep the fire back? What distance from the treeline should a building be? Or are there particular plants that can be used as a firebreak? We are planning on a metal roof for water catchment and snow shed, which should offer some protection from falling sparks, etc. But what other measures can we take to protect the house at least, if nothing else on the homestead? Does anyone have a water tower in case of fire? North-Easterm Ontario doesn't normally get fires of the same magnitude seen in the West, but the possibility is always there, due to drought and lightning, and dummies with fireworks and cigarettes
In some locations it is required to have a certain amount of water catchment volume in order to build a house. I was at a spiritual community in California that had an acrepond that was 10 feet deep above it, by legal requirement. The pond had koi in it. :)
A person can have a sprinkler system set up that will either turn on automatically via a thermostat, or is available for the fire fighting crew to turn on if you have evacuated. I am thinking of putting in fire hydrants on gravity feed from my creek, with fire hoses and fire axes and spades in boxes beside them. If you do not have gravity feed, get a pump, and keep it in good running order with fuel safely stowed nearby.
While the metal roof you describe might not ignite with cinders, the siding might be combustible, and light up from the heat. Things like vinyl and cedar siding are really super flammable. There are some new concrete boards that look like wooden siding, and are fire proof. Things to consider then, are things like how much of your house can actually catch fire? Like with the siding example, there are options to most super flammable construction materials. A strawbale house, for instance, is surprisingly fire proof. You can take a flame thrower to a straw bale and it will only scorch the outer looser bits. Once the bale is encased in cob, clay slip, or other plaster/stucco, it is pretty much impossible for even a scorching. Light Clay Straw (lose straw coated with clay slip and then pushed into forms) construction is similar. The same is true of cordwood. A piece of firewood does not burn from it's round cut ends. You can take a flamethrower to a cordwood wall and you will only scorch the outer wood; it will not burn.
What direction do your hot summer winds come from. This is likely your Fire Vector. Concentrate on protecting your house from this direction, including moist gardens, ponds, swales, and a focus on leafy rather than needle (conifer) trees. Conifers go up in flames; deciduous trees drop the fire to the ground.
Create safe muster points for your family and your local community.
If the fire risk is high, if you have a lawn mow it and rake it to get out the thatch and any other dry material out. Then water it. Consider not having a lawn if you do not have the water to keep it green. A green lawn is a decent fire guard; a dry lawn is pretty flammable. Clean up any dry leaves or dead branches/wood. Dig a trench around your property down to bare mineral soil (this is what forest fire fighters call a fire guard).
Unite with neighbors to develop a fire strategy and response plan. You might be the first on the scene at your neighbors place, and might not know where to turn the water on.
If you do have to evacuate, close all the doors and windows tight, grab your bag that you have prepared in advance that has your valuable documents and irreplaceable photos and small heirlooms and such, and drive calmly, and safely. If you have a pick-up truck, then grab your chainsaw, handsaws, and an ax, so that if a burning tree blocks your road, you can still escape. Know where you are going, and what to expect there. Listen to the radio, and take advice from the fire marshal , fire department, or police seriously.
That's all I can think of off the cuff.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."-Margaret Mead "The only thing worse than being blind, is having sight but no vision."-Helen Keller
We were planning on putting the same material we use for the roof on the exterior, partially for fireproofing and partially for the sake of only having to buy one material. Our home will be on concrete footings with open space underneath, and we haven’t decided yet how to enclose that space. I have seen people end up with bears making themselves at home underneath if they don’t enclose it well. It’s also important to keep the humidity down by allowing air flow. But this material needs to be fireproof, too!
I love the idea of a fire-suppression sprinkler system. If I hook that up to a water tower, with a thermostat valve… I’ll run that by my partner and see what we can come up with.
The predominant winds there are from the West, either North-west or South west. If they are coming any other direction I wonder if we’re in for some strange weather!
I also really appreciate the advice about grabbing the chainsaw and axe in case we found ourselves blocked in by debris. There’s a lot of forest between us and a paved road.
I’m looking forward to meeting more people in the area, and that strategy is something worth discussing.
I was also wondering if many people were into HAM radio for safety if they live remotely? The nearest home to ours will be 15 minutes away by vehicle, between distance and general road conditions.
As soon as I posted this thread I saw an earlier one with some more awesome advice:
The US Forest Service has a great website on this subject - Defensible Space. The key to protecting your home in a wildfire is making space & tools for the firefighters to do their job.
Often times there are grants, free labor, and tons of helpful information from local wildland fire fighters on this subject. I'd recommend getting in touch with them and seeing what they have to say. The local department around here will help make a plan for your property, offers free chipping of dead wood once a year, and does yearly inspections for free (if requested).
Here's a photo showing my fire mitigation strategy.
1- Mineral dirt only within 5 feet of the dwelling. That keeps a grass fire from catching the dwelling on fire.
2- No tree branches within 6 feet of the ground. This helps to stop a grass fire from catching the trees on fire. That worked well for this fire. The grass fire burned under the trees, but it didn't become a tree fire. I haven't finished the pruning yet, but eventually, all trees within several hundred feet are intended to be pruned in this manner.
3- No trees within 30 feet of the dwelling. That way, if a tree does catch on fire, it's far enough away that the radiant heat from it is unlikely to catch the curtains on fire. Eventually, I intend to cut some trees through about permaculture zone 2, so that no tree is within 30 feet of another tree. That will help to minimize fire jumping from tree to tree.
Another note. In this area, fire tends to run quickly uphill, and to work it's way slowly downhill. So with limited resources, focusing on areas downhill of the dwelling may produce a higher margin of safety. And in like manner, in an area with prevailing winds, fire tends to run with the wind, rather than against it.