Fire officials urge caution in preventing disaster

ASHE COUNTY-The Appalachian Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) Fire Adapted Communities Coalition is a group of six RC&D non-profit organizations that spans north Georgia to southwest Virginia.

The goal of the coalition is to provide free outreach to southern Appalachian residents on how to reduce wildfire risk. Our coalition works with state and local fire professionals as well as county staff to share this valuable information.

Wildfires are a “hot topic” and when the southern Appalachians experienced a very real and scary wildfire season this past fall it really hit home.

After hearing about and seeing numerous wildfires across the south, many of us started to think about our potential risk and what we can do locally to improve our wildfire survival odds.

Many of us live next to or in forest areas, also known as the wildand urban interface (WUI), and as a result are significantly at risk to wildfires.

Wildfires can start and spread in different ways, so even if you are not in the fire’s path you may still be in danger. Strong winds can cause a fire to quickly get out of control, such as the 2-Mile Fire that burned in Ashe County, and can also carry embers great distances, such as the devastating Gatlinburg fires.

Luckily, the Firewise USA program helps communities to reduce wildfire risk by addressing different wildfire ignition scenarios.

Firewise is free, adaptable and the concepts can be applied to individual homes and communities alike.

The key idea of the Firewise program is to reduce potential fuels from around your home. This way, a rapidly approaching fire front or wind-blown fire embers will be less likely to ignite your home and valuables. A key component of Firewise is the home ignition zone.

Home ignition zone

The home ignition zone is an area around your home that is used to evaluate your risk.

The zone can range from 100-200’ depending on how steep your property is.

The steeper your property, the greater your home ignition zone should be, as fires often move more rapidly uphill than on flat ground.

The home ignition zone concept was developed after many years of fire research on how homes, fuels, and distance to fuels affect ignition. There are three zones when considering a home ignition zone:

Zone 1 – is within 30 feet of your home and includes all structures and house attachments. The 30-foot number comes from the minimum distance (on flat ground) that a house wall needs to be from large flames to prevent ignition by radiant heat. Zone 1 is the most important area to consider and you should start at the home and move outward when making safety improvements. Within Zone 1 it is recommended that:

· Leaves, sticks and flammable debris be cleared from roofs, gutters, and under porches and eaves.

· Ideally, a non-flammable roof (metal or synthetic wood shingle) and siding are used.

· A 5-foot fuel-free zone is maintained around the perimeter of your home. You can utilize non-flammable landscaping materials (stone, bricks, etc.) and plants/shrubs that have high moisture content (see NCSU Cooperative Extension Firewise Landscaping publication for more information). Unfortunately, our beautiful rhododendrons and mountain laurels are very flammable.

· Trees are pruned up to 6-10 feet from the ground. Pruning at this height helps to prevent ground fires from running up the tree into the crown. Crown fires are serious business!

· Remove firewood and fuel tanks away from the home. Cut any dead/dying trees near your home and remove debris far from your residence (outside of the home ignition zone).

· Trees and shrubs do not need to be clear-cut within the 30’ zone but fuel loads should be reduced and spread out if possible.

Zone 2 – extends 30-100 feet from your home. Within Zone 2 it is recommended that:

· Plants should be low growing and spaced out to prevent a fire from running and gaining momentum. Think of it as small islands of fuel that are spaced out instead of a continuous fuel line.

· Create fuel breaks with driveways, walkways, or grass lawns.

· Trees are a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees. Conifers are the most flammable.

Zone 3 – extends 100- 200 feet from your home. Within Zone 3 it is recommended that:

· Any accumulated woody debris be removed outside of the zone (downed logs, etc.).

· A high density of tall trees touching be thinned so that trees are spaced out and a fire can’t run as easily.


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