Fire Protection

This page records my ongoing and constantly evolving plan related to protecting the ranch from a wildfire.

RESEARCH:  My primary source for fire mitigation and control information (so far) is the Internet.  I plan to ask the Fire Department to come by this summer so I can ask them about my plans and hear their recommendations. 

THE SITE:  Any fire protection plan needs to take site features and resources into consideration.  Is there a reliable source of water on site? How easy is it to access?  Can local fire trucks safely access the property and reach the main structure and outbuildings?  Are potential wildfire fuel sources minimized?  What stands in the way of entering or exiting the property?  What power sources are available and how reliable will these be in a wildfire situation? 

Obviously, our plan should include reliable sources of water and power, easy ingress and egress for emergency vehicles, strategies to reduce available wildfire fuel, reliable emergency communication systems, a reasonable shelter-on-site plan, and an evacuation plan.

Here is what we have to work with on site now:

POWER/FUEL SOURCES:  We are supplied with electricity from the grid.  Propane is also available on site, and is stored in a large above-ground tank that is surrounded by pine trees and located about 30 feet from the house and garage.

WATER:  The site receives an average of 12.5 inches of rain a year (mostly in the form of snow).  We have a seasonal stream running through the property with a little pond near our driveway.  The stream and pond are primarily fed by snow melt.  Both of these are shallow and dry by August.  All water is supplied to the house and outbuildings by a well, fitted with an electric pump.

WASTE WATER:  The ranch has a new septic system, and all our waste water lines run into it.  We are considering adding a grey water recycling system to provide additional sources of water for irrigation and emergency use.



Looking east toward house (garage to the left)
 BUILDINGS:  Our house is wood frame with wood siding sitting atop a cement block foundation.  The house has a full basement (with concrete block walls) set into a north facing hill.  The living area is surrounded by decking on the north and west sides, which leaves a large overhang under the deck on the North side for storage (or for sparks to settle in for a good long burn).

Looking northwest toward barn from house
The garage and barn are both made of wood with wood siding.  All roofs are old asphalt shingle, and need replacing.

LANDSCAPE:  Pine trees are scattered throughout the property, and some are very close to the house and outbuildings.

ACCESS:  A gravel drive runs from the paved main road (where it has a locked gate) to the house, crossing a culvert along the way (which allows the seasonal stream to pass through unmolested), and ends in a large turn-around area in front of the house, barn and garage.  The turn-around is large enough for a fire truck, so as long as the culvert crossing is strong enough to carry emergency vehicles (a fact I will confirm this summer), emergency access to our structures should not be a problem.

THE PLAN:  Here is an outline of my plan so far.
  1. ENSURE RELIABLE WATER SUPPLY BY:
    1. Adding a Generator.  In an emergency, we must assume we will loose electrical power from the grid, so a back-up generator is needed to run the water pump.  The only reliable source of fuel we have that will start up no matter the weather is propane, so we will add a propane generator.  This should not be difficult as our electrical system is already set up for one, we simply need to replace the generator that no longer works.
    2. Enlarging the Pond.   Over the years, the pond has filled in with silt.  The silt needs to be removed and the pond maintained so it will hold emergency water during the dry season.  
    3. Installing a Grey Water Recycling System.  Grey water can easily be diverted to small, temporary holding tanks for use as irrigation water and to use for emergency fire suppression. 
  2. ENSURE RELIABLE AND EASY EMERGENCY VEHICLE ACCESS BY:
    1. Changing the front gate locking system to permit emergency vehicle access.
    2. Improving the stream crossing, if necessary, to ensure heavy emergency vehicles can cross safely.
    3. Preserving the large turnaround area in front of the house, garage and barn to permit emergency vehicle access to all buildings.
  3. REDUCE WILDFIRE FUEL SOURCES BY:
    1. Removing tall trees that are within 50 feet of main structures
    2. Replacing existing roofing with metal
    3. Replacing siding with low combustion material
    4. Enclosing the underside of all decks to prevent sparks from coming to rest there and starting fires.
    5. Storing dry combustibles (like hay and wood) away from main buildings where they might add to a fire (retaining emergency vehicle accessibility to them).
    6. Storing flammable gases and liquids inside in proper containers where sparks are unlikely to reach them.
    7. Consider using fire retardant sprays on wood surfaces
    8. Consider installing water sprinklers in the house and barn
  4. HAVE THE FOLLOWING EMERGENCY EQUIPMENT ON HAND
    1. Fire Extinguishers in the house, basement, and all outbuildings
    2. Smoke masks near all fire extinguishers 
    3. Water-assisted, spray-on foam fire retardants for large surface applications
    4. Harnesses, ropes, cages and leashes to contain animals in the event of emergency evacuation
  5. HAVE AN EMERGENCY SHELTER-ON-SITE PLAN
    1. Basement?
    2. Pond?
    3. Earth Shelter?
    4. Open Field?
  6. HAVE AN EMERGENCY EVACUATION PLAN
    1. Main road?
    2. Off-road?
  7. HAVE AN EMERGENCY COMMUNICATION PLAN
    1. Cell phone?
    2. Short-wave radio?
REVIEW ALL OF THE ABOVE WITH LOCAL FIRE FIGHTERS!