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This Week is Wildfire Awareness Week - Day 2

Wildfire Preparedness

Day 2: The Home Ignition Zone

Wildfire Awareness Week is a weeklong effort to raise awareness in Montana about wildfire safety. FireSafe Montana, Keep Montana Green, the Governor’s Office of Community Service, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and Montana Red Cross have teamed up to make sure you and your family are prepared for wildfire season. Please join us in our statewide effort to help you and your family plan and prepare for wildfire season.

On Day 2 of Wildfire Awareness Week, the focus will be on the Home Ignition Zone, which includes the home as well as its immediate surroundings out 100-200 feet. If this area is adequately prepared well in advance of a wildfire, it reduces the chance of ignition and improves the likelihood that a home will survive a wildfire intact. In fact, studies at the Missoula Fire Sciences Lab have shown that evaluating and improving the home ignition zone is one of the most effective ways to prevent home ignitions in a wildfire situation.

Many who live in the fire-adapted environments of western states like Montana are aware that wildfire is an inevitable and important part of a complex ecological process. However, that knowledge does not change the fact that wildfires destroy homes, adversely affect entire communities, and that suppression efforts are guaranteed to be expensive. Fortunately, there are things you can do to decrease your risk. One of the first steps is to understand how ignitions start.

When a wildfire burns through a forest or prairie, there are two common misperceptions: wildfires burn in a straight path like an avalanche or a flood; and crown fires are what move through to destroy entire communities. While this may be true in some cases, it is also true that the intense heat produced by wildfire creates vertical lift that, in combination with high winds, can transport embers up to a mile ahead of the main fire. When these embers land on dry grass or a bed of pine needles, they ignite and start small spot fires that burn together and cause a fire to grow quickly.

Embers associated with a fire also swirl around like a blizzard and accumulate in corners, cracks and crevices of homes where they can smolder and ultimately ignite the home well after the main fire has burned past. Reducing the flammability of a home and thinning out the surrounding vegetation can help in preventing home ignitions. Since this area is the property of the homeowner, the power and responsibility belongs to them. Therefore, it is imperative to regularly evaluate homes, take note of the places embers could accumulate, and make the necessary changes.

First, consider the construction materials and replace, if possible, with fire-resistant materials:

  • Composite asphalt, tile or metal roofing materials are the most fire-resistant; shake shingles are the least.
  • Brick and stucco walls are the most fire-resistant, while PVC and vinyl products melt at low temperatures.
  • Enclosed undersides of decks and porches, eaves, soffits, and fascia keep embers from entering.
  • Vents covered with 1/8” metal screening prevent firebrands from entering the space behind.
  • Double paned or tempered glass windows decrease the chance of breakage that would allow embers to enter the home.
  • Then, evaluate attachments and the perimeter of your home:

  • Wooden porches, decks or fencing could provide fire a path to your home
  • Gutters, roofs, porches, corners, and stairs often accumulate needles, leaves and debris. These areas should be swept off or cleaned out regularly to eliminate areas where embers may land and ignite.
  • Use gravel or a non-combustible mulch 3-5 feet around the perimeter of the home and under any decks, porches or stairs. Rake up and dispose of dead and dry vegetation that collects in these areas.
  • Keep your chimney cleaned and screened.
  • In many parts of Montana, June is the ideal time to get outside for spring cleanup and to complete work around home and property. Later this summer when the smoke is in the air, these homeowners can feel more comfortable knowing that the work has been done ahead of time and their place is adequately prepared for the fire season.

    Check out where you can order the DVD, “Wildfire! Preventing Home Ignitions,” and listen to Jack Cohen who conducted the research and developed the concept of the Home Ignition Zone. Tomorrow, the area surrounding the home will be addressed and specific recommendations for survivable space will be shared.

    For more information on how to improve the home ignition zone, go to the websites listed below.

    To have important wildfire safety information at your fingertips, download the free Red Cross Wildfire App at You can also download the Red Cross’s free First Aid and Shelter apps there.