Thursday, September 25, 2008
Firewise home protection introduced
By SUE WATSON
When someone loses a home to fire it affects more than the owner’s family, it affects their friends, neighbors and extended families, according to George Rowland of New Albany.
When he asked for a raising of hands, many who attended the first Firewise Program at Wall Doxey State Park said they had either lost their home to a fire or knew someone who did. Fires can destroy a home due to accidents, such as one caused by forgetting to turn the gas off a burner of food when leaving, or there are those fires that take down houses in wildfires, Rowland said.
The Mississippi Firewise Program, sponsored by the Mississippi Forestry Commission was formed to try to do something about home destruction after 14,000 United States homes burned in 1985. The National Firewise program is educational and teaches homeowners and communities how to reduce the probability their homes will be wiped out in minutes from a wildfire. One of the main factors leading to home destruction by wildfires is landscaping fuel and storage of combustible materials around the perimeter of the house and outdoor structures.
Robert Thornton, public outreach/urban forester with the Mississippi Forestry Commission, presented the nuts and bolts of fire prevention steps that could save a house or an entire neighborhood from a wildfire.
Firewise partners with the police, sheriff’s office, insurance agent, media, homeowner, fire department, builders, developers, and emergency managers to improve fire safety in subdivisions and in forested areas occupied by dwellings.
Ultimately, preventing an attack of a house from a wildfire rests heavily on the homeowner. He or she can do much to prevent it by clearing away fuels from around the home and by building new homes of materials that are fire retardant.
In 2007-2008, there were about 40 fires in Marshall County that consumed about 900 acres of land, of which 750 acres were forest and the rest non-forest and federal lands, Thornton said.
Firewise landscaping tips and rules can minimize the chances of a wildfire taking down a house by starving the fire of fuel and not feeding and directing the fire to the house or structure.
Wildfires are nature’s way of reducing dead matter to minerals that enrich the soil. But seasonal effects, natural forces and people contribute to wildfires, Thornton said.
A home can be made safer from wildfires by providing a defensible space of 30 feet around the perimeter of the home or structure. A home ignitions zone of a 100-foot perimeter provides better protection of the space around a structure from wildfire. Landscape fuels and other combustible materials should be minimized within the first 10 feet, 30 feet and 100 feet around the perimeter when possible.
All that is required is knowing what items create a hazard and getting the work done.
“It is not a matter of if, but when we are going to have wildfires,” Thornton said.
In forest lands the ignition zone is important to maintain and everything in that zone should be made of fire-resistant exterior house materials. Substitution of landscaping plants and mulch with rock provides a fire barrier.
There should be two ways to get in and out of the driveway and room for fire trucks to get into the home site and turn around, he said. Road width is critical as well as the road material which can be critical when a heavy fire engine responds to a fire. Even before the engine gets there with firefighting equipment and firefighters, the 911 address can be the critical time saver. Posting the mail box on both sides with four-inch reflective letters helps firefighters locate the home quickly.
There are other conditions that can affect access of a burning home to firefighters – the location of power lines, gas lines, water lines and septic tanks.
“Septic tanks can stick a fire truck,” he said.
The Firewise Program works best in smaller communities and subdivisions rather than large towns, Thornton said, citing Snow Lake Shores as a good example of how a close-knit community can protect itself better from wildfires by implementing the Firewise Program.
The first step is an assessment by the Mississippi Forestry Commission. The second step is a hazards assessment presentation to the community. Afterward, scores are generated and a firewise plan is put together; the whole thing is submitted to Firewise USA. Then a firewise clean-up day is held in the community or neighborhood.
Many common-sense things homeowners can do are available in the Firewise literature which lists 50 things that can be done to protect a home.
The complete list is available in packets provided by the Mississippi Forestry Commission. Check with the Marshall County Extension Service, the Marshall County Forestry Association or call The South Reporter for a copy.
Steps that cost nothing more than a little time include:
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