Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Creating A Defensible Space Against A Wildfire

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California firefighters are still battling to contain innumerable wildfires estimated to be burning in the state. Depending on the weather, this number may grow. Hot, dry winds repeatedly worsen the situation, and if there is more lightning without compensating rainfall, we may witness one of the most destructive fire seasons in history.

Everyone now must consider how best to safeguard their homes and property against an encroaching wildfire. At the wildland-urban interface, human dwellings are juxtaposed against the wilderness. As opposed to the man-made fire breaks imposed by living in the city, there is often scant protection out "in the country." The recommendations that follow are applicable in an urban setting as well, but much more important in a wildland setting:

1. Use fire-resistant external construction materials, particularly for the roof, where embers may fall. Wooden shakes are highly flammable. keep the gutters clean of combustible materials.
2. Remove combustible materials from close proximity to the dwelling. This includes piles of wood, flammable refuse, leaf litter, dead limbs, and piles of slash. Dry underbrush within stands of trees close to a dwelling serves as tinder for a fire.
3. If landscaping is flammable, maintain it as far as possible from the dwelling, so that it does not provide an easy flame path to your home. The further that combustible landscaping is located from the at-risk buildings, the better. A recommended minimum distance is 30 to 50 feet. In addition, create paths and openings that allow firefighters easy access to the dwelling.
4. Keep all trees and shrubs pruned of dead limbs and leaves. Do not allow large trees, dead or alive, to overhang your home. Maintain a green lawn if the lawn is adjacent to your home. Do not allow grass to grow tall and become dry, so that it can easily burn.
5. To block embers from entering your home, use metal screens over vents and other openings. Otherwise, they can enter and ignite the inside of the dwelling.

Please check out the excellent information that can be found at www.firewise.org, the Truckee (California) Fire Protection District's web page, and http://www.firesafecouncilnevco.com/Publications/FSC_defensiblespace.pdf

image courtesy of Squaw Valley Public Service District

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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