May 2021
Not If, but When
Good prep work can save your home from wildfire

If you read Patrick Grady’s piece here last month (“Climate Change Risk Rising in Prescott,” April), you likely felt a little anxious afterward. It was a sobering assessment of the very great, very real risk of our area experiencing a major wildfire event, similar in severity to the Camp Fire, which devastated Paradise, California in 2019 and splashed across the news worldwide.

Maksim Goncharenok

Patrick also pointed out that, unlike both Sedona and Flagstaff, Prescott has so far neglected to develop a climate-preparedness plan. We can work toward creating this, but there is much that we as individuals can do to protect our homes and properties from wildfire should one come near our neighborhoods, and to prepare for a quick evacuation should it become necessary.

We all love Prescott for the lovely weather and easy access to the beautiful landscape, which varies so rapidly from the rocky Granite Dells to the tall Ponderosas at slightly higher elevation. We like the shade our trees provide near our homes, especially as our summers are getting hotter. But trees near houses increase the risk of those houses burning down. The USDA fire scientist Jack Cohen has developed a helpful graphic on the Home Ignition Zone (HIZ), listing actions we can take to prevent wildfires getting close enough to burn our homes.

1. Immediate Zone: up to five feet of home

• Clear any vegetation from gutters and roof

• Repair any roof damage

• Install metal screening in vents

• Repair broken windows and screens

• Protection under decks (mesh screening or fencing)

2. Intermediate Zone: 5-30 feet from home

• Clear vegetation from below any grounded propane tanks

• Mow grass to 4” height

• Create “fuel breaks” (altered vegetation, as in spacing or hardscaping, to control spread of fire)

• Clear “ladder fuels” (vegetation below trees) to a level that can’t reach crowns (cut to 1/3 of overall tree height)

• Space trees 18 feet apart at minimum (more space on steeper slopes)

• Create breaks in shrubbery as well, and only keep in small clusters

3. Extended Zone: 30-100 feet from home

• Clear surrounding areas of all collected debris/litter

• Remove dead plant material

• Remove any conifers between trees

• Remove vegetation surrounding secondary buildings

• 12 feet of spacing between treetops at 30-60 feet

• 6 feet of spacing at 60-10 feet

* Spacing information based on NFPA 1144. Get additional information from local fire marshal to protect homes to highest degree. 

So many homes and neighborhoods are more attractive because they have trees near the houses, but we enjoy that beauty at our peril, and we put our community at greater risk, including the elderly and the disabled, who may not be able to evacuate so readily, or own their own insured homes.

If a fire does get close enough to your home, remembering the ‘five Ps’ will expedite your evacuation:

• People

• Pets

• Pills

• Photos

• Important Papers

You may also want to pack a ‘go-bag’ with the above items and some clothes, dog food, etc.

Yavapai County has experienced some devastating wildfires in recent years, including the Indian Creek and Doce fires, which came very close to Prescott, and we all remember the horror of the Yarnell fire. Whiskey Row has burned five times in the relatively short history of Prescott, and there is no more cause to think that downtown is safer than any other neighborhood than there was to think the town of Paradise was safer than its wooded environs. As we learned in Yarnell, wildfires can move and change with terrifying speed, and increasing drought from climate change only makes the urgency of planning ahead greater. We can and should take steps to mitigate the loss of lives and property for the sake of Everybody’s Hometown.

Abby Brill is Associate Editor of 5enses. Laura Cummings contributed to this article.

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