Access to property is necessary to protect homes and personal property from wildfire damage

The MSU Extension Firewise program offers tips on how cottage owners can make their property more accessible to firefighting and emergency equipment.

Many people who live in southern Michigan and who own cottages in northern Michigan like to spend as much time as possible “up north” during the summer months. A feeling of relaxation emerges as people travel from the busy highway to the two-track that (in some cases) leads to their “up north” cottage in the woods.  For some, this feeling of “getting away from it all” is a large part of their Northern Michigan experience. 

However, if their cottage is located in a wildfire-prone area in northern Michigan, then cottage owners need to ensure that there is adequate access to their property in case a wildfire ever breaks out in their area. According to experts at Michigan State University Extension, firefighters and their emergency equipment need a certain amount of space in order to enter a piece of property. Without sufficient access, firefighters will not attempt to enter because of the risk of entrapment to crews and firefighting equipment and simply by-pass the property.

While narrow two-tracks may be adequate for most cars and small pickups, large firefighting equipment needs room to maneuver. As a general rule, the MSU Extension Firewise program recommends a road clearance of 12 feet across and 15 feet high to provide adequate room for most emergency vehicles to travel. In addition, there also needs to be enough space for fire trucks to turn around at the end of the two-track or driveway into the property. While many property owners may like their privacy, without sufficient clearance and visibility from the roadway into the property, firefighters won’t attempt to enter an area if they think they could become trapped.

If the property also happens to be located in area with steep hillsides and terrain, then some additional planning is required by property owners in designing access roads to their property to accommodate large equipment. Road grades should not exceed a rise of 5 feet for every 100 feet of lineal roadway as very steep roadways combined with tight curves make it difficult for large pieces of emergency equipment to travel on.

Routine maintenance of roads and surrounding vegetation is also important to maintain proper clearances and access to the property. For example, something that should be done every year is to check in the spring to see if any large snow storms or windstorms that passed through over the winter caused any trees to topple over and block off portions of the roadway. Similarly, as trees, shrubs and other perennial vegetation grow in size, they may begin to encroach upon the sides of the roadway and may need to be pruned back to maintain adequate clearance for emergency equipment.

Finally, any locked gates, chains or other obstruction across your driveway can also cause access problems. Under extreme weather conditions, wildfires can move very quickly over the ground. Consequently, there may not be time to break down locked gates or barriers in an emergency. Firefighters might be forced to pass by your home and go on to the next one simply because they couldn’t get past the gate.

The MSU Extension Firewise program offers homeowners tips on wildfire safety for their cottages. For more information on protecting your home from wildfire, visit the national Firewise website. In addition, Michigan residents can also purchase extension bulletin E-2831, “Protecting Your Michigan Home from Wildfire” from the MSU Extension Bookstore website.

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