Wildfire poses risk of loss to homes and communities

A migration of homeowners from urban areas to locations adjacent to or in close proximity to wildlands is increasing the risk of loss of homes from wildfires. Understanding how wildfires pose a threat to homes can help owners and communities reduce the ri

You don’t have to be residing in a pine forest to be at risk of losing your home to wildfire. Brush, grass and cropland fires can also pose a threat, particularly in the spring and fall fire seasons. Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Firewise Communities program helps homeowners learn to adapt to living with wildfire. Part of this adjustment is an understanding of how wildfires threaten our homes.

There are three primary ways wildfire can transfer from vegetation to buildings and homes:

  • Convection – the direct contact of flames with a structure
  • Radiation – the transfer of heat energy over distance
  • Firebrands - burning embers blown by fire generated winds; forest fire situations can carry these more than a mile.

In all cases, your home’s building materials, design and adjacent yard area all play a role in establishing the level of exposure that can be endured before ignition. Reducing or eliminating ignition hazards from a zone of at least thirty feet immediately around home and buildings will improve the chance of the structures surviving a wildfire.

Windblown firebrands create a special challenge and are the ignition source most properties are least protected from. As these windblown embers tend to collect in the same areas as leaves, dead grass and needles, special attention needs to be given to eliminating these fuel sources in and around your structures. Mulch type landscaping material can also provide an ignition source. Although landscaping mulch will retain moisture, in the extreme dry conditions present in most wildfire situations it can also act as an ignition hazard, consider stone or gravel as a fire safe alternative.

Understanding that for wildfires, your home is just another fuel source and taking precautions to protect structures by establishing survivable space will go a long way in preventing a loss. Something as simple as creating spacing between yard trees and pruning off lower branches on conifers might make the difference in preventing a loss.

For more information on home protection from wildfire losses or for contact information on Michigan State University Extension persons working in the Firewise Community.

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