Wildfires have always played an integral part in our continent’s fire-adapted. A recent study from Texas A&M University, “Tree rings reveal forest fires from hundreds of years ago,” provides scientific evidence of North American wildfires that date back centuries. 

In the last decade, however, the country has experienced wildfires that are growing in intensity and frequency. These fires are not only causing greater loss of life and property in states with known wildfire risks, but are also affecting places that people don't associate with wildfires, such as Kansas, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Hawaii. The 2016 fire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which caused 14 deaths, $500 million dollars of damage and another $8.8 million to fight it, is one such example.

With the growing wildfire season and the increasing risk of loss, it is imperative that residents take individual responsibility for preparing their homes from potential wildfires. Though it may seem like a daunting task, science and research prove that effective wildfire preparedness measures do not have to be costly to prevent loss of property. One such program that encourages local solutions to the wildfire problem is the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Firewise USA, which teaches people how to adapt to living with wildfire, and encourages neighbors to work together and take action now to prevent losses.

What you can do

NFPA offers the following tips that can help reduce the risk of wildfire damage to homes and property:

  • Clear needles, leaves and other debris from the roof, gutters, eaves, porches and decks. This reduces the chances of embers igniting your home.

  • To reduce ember penetration, replace or repair loose or missing roof shingles or tiles, and caulk any gaps or openings on roof edges.

  • Cover exterior attic vents, and enclose under-eave and soffit vents with metal wire mesh no larger than an eighth of an inch to prevent embers from entering the home.

  • Relocate items stored under decks or porches, and replace vegetation in these areas with rock or gravel.

  • Remove flammable items within 30 feet of all structures including firewood piles, portable propane tanks and dry or dead vegetation.

  • Keep your lawn hydrated and maintained. Dry grass and shrubs are fuel for wildfire. If your lawn is brown, trim it to reduce fire intensity, and don’t let debris and clippings linger. Dispose of these items quickly to reduce fuel for fire.

Today’s reality reflects the fact that wildfires can occur anywhere, and preparedness efforts can make a difference in saving lives and property. By collaborating with school and city officials, civic leaders, the local fire department and neighbors, residents can better define risk and identify work projects at their own homes and in neighborhoods for the benefit of the entire community.