Stillwater News Press

Outdoors

February 11, 2014

Wildfires have the homeowners’ attention

STILLWATER, Okla. — As crazy as it may sound, fire in Oklahoma is extremely beneficial. It restores grasslands and controls unwanted species. It is a natural process that provides habitat for certain wildlife.

However, it becomes a major problem when fire gets into structures such as barns, sheds and houses. The recent increase in wildfires throughout the state has sparked the interest of homeowners who have concerns about safety.

Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension suggests becoming more firewise to increase your home’s chances of surviving the next wildfire. You could start with a chainsaw, rake and a lawnmower.

The National Firewise Communities (http://firewise.org) program should be referenced to become proactive against wildfires BEFORE they happen. Taking simple steps such as raking back leaves and cleaning out gutters could save a house or structure from a fire. Remove items that will burn easily from around the house, including flammable trees such as redcedar, firewood and dense vegetation.

You want to create a defensible space of about 100 feet all the way around the house. Keeping the grass short and the trees trimmed is vital to the safety of your home.

All trees within this 100-foot radius should be pruned so that you can walk under the lowest branches without hitting your head. Any ladder fuels, such as shrubs that allow a surface flame to engulf the tree canopy, also should be removed.

Any trees within this defensible space should ideally have about 30 feet of space between them to keep fires from traveling through the canopy. Any redcedar tree near the structure should be removed, as redcedar is highly flammable. Most people do not realize how far flames can carry from a burning tree. As an example, a 10-foot redcedar has the capacity to ignite a structure at least 100 feet away. Many homes in Oklahoma have much larger redcedars in closer proximity.

Once the trees are trimmed and the grass is mowed, all the debris needs to be removed, as it will serve as fuel to a wildfire. The idea is to remove any fuels away from the house. Aside from prescribed burning to clear these fuels, regular maintenance is the next best thing.

Also, consider the flammability of the structure itself. Nonflammable shingles or metal roofs should be used in Oklahoma.  Brick or stone is an ideal firewise building material. Wood structures are more hazardous and require a careful evaluation of fuels in close proximity to the structure. 

Remember, it is your responsibility, not the fire department, to ensure the survivability of your home. Many homes are destroyed each year because the homeowner did not proactively protect them and firefighters could do little to intervene.  Also, poor decisions from homeowners affect their neighbors as well. Neighborhoods and communities must be in this together. One poorly managed residence puts others at risk.

For more information, visit the Oklahoma Forestry Services website at www.forestry.ok.gov.

Dwayne Elmore is Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist in the department of natural resource ecology and management.

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