A Guide to Firesmart Landscaping

It’s spring! And many of us are looking at seed and plant catalogues, thinking about our gardens and yards, and wondering what to plant and where to plant it.

Landscaping can be a major factor in whether your property is firesmart or not. It’s important to limit the level of flammable vegetation and materials around your home and to increase the moisture content of remaining vegetation.

Our Landscaping Guide uses a zone approach, providing information and suggestions for areas nearby and farther from houses and buildings. Click here to download it.

The Wyoming Extension Service has several publications available for download that have a wealth of information about landscaping and gardening. Go to http://www.wyoextension.org/publications and search for “landscaping.”

 

Are You Financially Prepared for a Wildfire?

piles of coins next to small house

When wildfires wiped out entire neighborhoods in California (and probably other places), many homeowners found that when they started rebuilding their homes, that their insurance payments DID NOT COVER REPLACING THEIR HOMES!

In many instances this shortage was in the hundreds of thousand dollars!

This was primarily due to undervaluing their homes for insurance coverage that didn’t reflect major increases in housing prices in their parts of California. A secondary cause was increases in the cost of building materials, and the number of available contractors being stretched by the number of homes burned.

Here are recommendations for wildfire preparedness that needs to be done BEFORE a wildfire, flood, or other home-damaging event.

Tip 1: Conduct Annual Insurance Checkups with your insurance company. Discuss your policy limits and coverage, and make sure your policy reflects the correct square footage and features in your home.

Tip 2: Know What Your Policy Covers. Understand if you have a Replacement Cost Policy that pays to replace all your items at current market price, or an Actual Cash Value policy that takes depreciation into account and pays less for aged items.

Tip 3: Update Your Policy to Cover Home Improvements. If you make home improvements, be sure to call your agent or company to update your coverage.

Tip 4: Maintain Insurance. If your home is paid off, be sure to maintain homeowner insurance. Without insurance, do you have the money to rebuild your home?

Tip 5: Get Renters Insurance if you’re not a homeowner. Renters can lose everything in a fire and be left to start over.

Tip 6: Keep your home inventory updated. Recovery is easier if you have an accurate home inventory. Document the contents of your home before a fire or other emergency occurs. Here are some general ideas for your inventory.

A. Videotape or photograph each room of your home. Remember to document drawers and closets, and don’t forget the garage and any detached storage buildings.
B. Describe your home’s contents on videotape or photographs. Mention the price you paid, plus where and when you bought the item.
C. Note important or expensive items. Videotape or photograph all of your electronics, appliances, sports equipment, TVs, computers, tablets, etc.
D. Save receipts for major purchases. Store key documents in the cloud or a fireproof case.
E. Keep your inventory and photos outside your home or in the cloud.
F. Some insurance agents have handy home inventory record books for doing a home inventory. Ask when you do your next annual insurance review.
G. If you do your inventory on your smartphone, be sure to make a copy of that information in a separate electronic storage device not in your home.

Pre-Fire Season Checklist

flowerpot, wheelbarrows, other yard work implements

In March, many of us in Wyoming start to think about gardens and yard work after a long, cold winter. Some of us start seeds inside. Some of us pore over catalogs filled with vegetables and flowers and trees. All of us are looking forward to spring and summer.

This is also a great time to think about whether your cabin, home, or other property in the urban-wildland interface is ready for fire season. Here’s a handy checklist to use when you start your outdoor chores this spring. Even homes or cabins that have been made Firesmart need to be maintained as vegetation keeps growing and our human activities change the situation.

Before fire season:

  • Remove leaves and forest litter from gutters, roofs, and within 3 feet of all structures
  • Clean chimney screens
  • Cut new small trees and shrubs within the 100-foot zone
  • Remove dead trees within the 100-foot zone
  • Check your address placard or sign for clear visibility
  • Move your conveniently-placed winter woodpile to more than 30 feet from all structures
  • Check/replace the batteries in your emergency alert radio
  • Inspect your power line for branches within four feet in all directions
  • Check window screens for a tight fit, and patch any holes
  • Remove leaves and needles between the boards of decks, and under any decks and porches.
  • Check walls and foundation for fresh bird and animal holes and patch appropriately
  • Pick up winter-broken limbs within the 100-foot zone
  • Remove flammable materials from decks and porches, except when actually in use
  • Review your evacuation plan, and share it with the family and guests

During fire season:

Monitor the above items on a regular basis.

Keep current on wildfire activity in Wyoming or the country. Check out the websites below, and move them to your computer’s “Favorites” list.

For Fires In Wyoming: https://www.fireweatheravalanche.org/fire/state/wyoming

Fire Activity For The Entire Country: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov

Before Grass Cures In Mid-Summer:

  • Mow grassy areas around all structures
  • Mow grass within and adjacent to driveways

 

What We Learned from the 2018 Fire Season

Wyoming’s 2018 Fire Season

Wyoming experienced more than 900 wildfires that burned nearly 550,000 acres (850 square miles), and destroyed 65 homes and cabins, mostly in fires in the vicinity of Grand Teton National Park. Each of these numbers was substantially above the 2002-2016 yearly averages, and higher than the peak year of 2012.

The scale of the Wyoming fire season was small compared to California (see below), but the contributing factors were generally the same. Those factors will continue to influence fire numbers, acres burned, and structures at risk in years to come.

California’s 2018 Fire Season

2018 was the deadliest and most destructive California wildfire season on record.

  • Total number of wildfires: 8,527. Nearly 60 were over 1,000 acres
  • Total area burned: 1,893,913 acres (3,000 square miles; larger than Washakie County)
  • Total structures burned: More than 18,000 homes and commercial buildings
  • Fatalities: 98 civilians, 6 firefighters and firefighting equipment operators
  • Estimated cost: Over $3.5 billion in damages and firefighting costs

What We Learned

Discarding the various pieces of political rhetoric about the events in California, observations from various sources – in no particular order of impact – include:

  • More people living in areas of historic wildfire equals more human-caused fires.
  • Increases in available fuel in wildland that included the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).
  • Drought conditions, with some growing influence likely by climate change.
  • There was major residential construction in the WUI at locations where historic fires were large, but there were few residential structures to burn.
  • Individual structures not in compliance with accepted and recommended Firewise practices were at highest risk. And each “un-Firewise” home that was burning threatened and ignited even those nearby that were Firewise.
  • Burned communities were in historic fire-prone locations. The analogy was that homes in flood zones are subject to flooding. Homes in fire-prone landscapes are subject to wildfires.
  • Houses were not burned by a flaming front through a heavy forest. It was the ember storm from other burning structures that ignited the buildings. Aerial images of burned neighborhoods showed that many of the trees didn’t burn unless ignited by the flames of adjacent burning buildings.

All of the above factors apply to Wyoming WUI communities. Property owners and communities can mitigate all factors except periodic drought and future influences of climate change to some degree by reducing the flammability of homes and the community through land-use planning, changing construction codes for new buildings, reducing wildland fuels near WUIs, organizing Firewise Communities, and implementing Firesmart principles around individual homes and cabins.

 

 

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