Community Agriculture Alliance: The home ignition zone |

Community Agriculture Alliance: The home ignition zone

Carolina Manriquez
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The smoke plume of the Middle Fork Fire has reminded us all that the work to continue reducing the fire risk in our community is never done. When thinking about what actions you can take around your house and neighborhood to reduce fire risk, it helps to frame those actions from the front door to the forest, with a combination of home hardening and defensible space.  

Home hardening means modifying a structure to make it more resistant to ignition from direct flame contact or radiant and convective heat, as well as from burning embers that may fall on or near the home. Hardening creates a home that is less vulnerable to ignition without fire department intervention. This is important because, in a wildland-urban interface fire, there are never enough fire engines to protect every home.

Defensible space describes an area about 100 feet from the structure where combustibles have been removed or altered to reduce wildfire risk. The distance may be increased to 150 to 200 feet if the structure is in steep terrain.

The latest fire science tells us that embers are the primary cause of home ignitions. Structures are fuel, and if structures do not ignite, then houses and neighborhoods do not burn. There is an opportunity for direct action from landowners to help solve the problem by reducing home ignition potential. To do this, the recommendation is to use the zone approach:

  1. Zone 1: The noncombustible zone: 0 to 5 feet from the structure and under the deck

a) Remove all combustibles and replace with non-combustible material, like rock or pavers.

b) Remove dead plant materials and regularly maintain within this zone.

  1. Zone 2: 5 to 30 feet from the structure.

a) Maintain trees and shrubs in well-spaced groupings.

b) Remove ladder fuels and lower branches.

c) Regularly mow grass and weeds.

  1. Zone 3: 30 to 100 feet from the structure

a) Create vegetation islands or groupings.

b) Remove lower branches and ladder fuels.

c) Maintain trees to provide adequate spacing of the crowns.

More specific examples of structure hardening include: 

Low cost

  • Focus on roofs and gutters by routinely removing debris.
  • Install window screens.
  • Remove vegetation and debris from decks.
  • Do not store combustible materials (firewood, lumber) under the deck.
  • Consider enclosing decks and installing non-combustible material under decks.
  • Enclose vents, soffits, and chimney or chimney/stovepipe openings with 1/8-inch metal mesh screening.
  • Install weather stripping around garage doors to stop embers from entering the garage, where combustible materials are often stored.
  • Install metal spacers between wood fences/gates and the structures they abut.
  • Ensure the start of exterior siding is a minimum of 6 inches above the ground.
  • Install a noncombustible barrier on fences that abut structures.

Higher cost

• Install Class A fire-rated roofing.

• Replace decking and siding with ignition-resistant materials. Avoid untreated wood and vinyl siding.

• Replace single-pane windows with dual- or multi-pane windows, preferably with tempered glass.

• Replace combustible fences with noncombustible fences.

• Box in all open-eave construction.

For any more questions on home hardening or defensible space, contact the Steamboat Springs Field Office of the Colorado State Forest Service at 970-879-0475.

Carolina Manriquez is a forester with the Colorado State Forest Service.

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