Are You Firewise?

Are You Firewise?

Recently, North Carolina, North Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee have all been suffering under extreme drought. This led to wildfires that consumed thousands of acres in the Appalachian mountains (some the result of arson). What follows is a guest blog from author Kathy Theis, whose neighborhood had worked on ensuring their property would have a better chance of surviving wildfires by following Forest Service guidelines for Firewise landscaping. Given that drought is becoming more common, we all need to be familiar with these guidelines.

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Slick Rock has not had a major fire since the early 1950s. "It won’t happen to us…….."

This season of wildfires has many of us reflecting on our preparedness for a wildfire. This event got our notice! With that in mind we reevaluated how defensible our home was after three years of forest and shrub growth. 

Had we really kept after what we had accomplished three years ago? How aggressive was the forest and brush in taking over our defensible area around our home? Were firefighters able to access our home using our driveway and the subdivision roads?

We located the Firewise Homeowner Assessment Sheet, evaluating our home for defense against wildfires using 4 categories: Entrance to the property, the HomeLandscaping, and Perimeter. This assessment was found on www.ncfirewise.org under resources.

Using the results from the assessment, we planned what areas needed improvement after 3 years. Clearing a larger defensible space, keeping shrubs under 5 feet in height near the structure, removing mulch, evaluating plantings for drought resistant plants were targets. We made sure we did not have any wood fencing or trellises. We cleared our driveway and the areas to the sides, making sure that fire trucks could reach the home.

Our home was new construction, so we knew we had double-paned windows, fire resistant shingles, noncombustible/heat resistant siding and wire covered gutters clean of debris.

We understood what wildfire needs to burn around a home. Good management of vegetation fuel determines if the fire will burn around the home.* We cannot manipulate the weather or topography, so we removed trees and shrubs that had grown into our defensible space, reduced fuels by pruning shrubs and low tree branches, and weed wacked grasses and wildflowers/perennials. We also removed several shrubs to be replaced with a kitchen garden next year. We cleared collected leaf litter in areas around the home by blowing leaves.

In addition, we placed hoses by our spigots and rakes and shovels by the garage service door. These are helpful tools for firefighters defending our home. We removed cushions from the porch. Frankly, we were not going to use the porch with the smoke pollution!

We have kept the North Carolina Forest Service Firewise brochure, “Is Your Home Safe from a Wildfire? A Guide for Protecting Homes from Wildfire (www.ncfirewise.org under publications), on our bookshelf for easy reference. 

Please take the time to visit www.ncfirewise.org, and “Like” FaceBook pages for the U.S. Forest Service-National Forests in North Carolina as well as the NC Forest Service. These organizations post pertinent information about such programs as the Ready, Set, Go! program and keep you up to date on current fire conditions.

As the NC Forest Service says: Act – Not React.”

Kathy Theis

* Note: the invasive species Miscanthus, aka Japanese/Chinese Silvergrass, is a dangerous "fuel" for wildfire. This grass was used extensively in highway landscaping by North Carolina and other states and "got loose" from those installations. (It is also still widely sold in the nursery trade.) It's volatile oils have been known to explosively combust when exposed to high heat and have been cited in the death of one firefighter (not locally, and not recently). --rky

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