The first step to reduce your home's wildfire risk is to identify your home's wildfire risk factors. Most homes in Western NC are likely to have some sort of wildfire vulnerability. A home's design, building materials, and landscape determine it's vulnerability to airborne embers, surface fires, and crown fires. By having a home assessment completed, you can gain awareness of what factors put you at risk and mitigation tasks you can complete to reduce your risk.
During an assessment, we start at your front door. We look at what your house is made of, what type of roof and siding you have. Are the roof and gutters piled with leaves and debris? We are looking for any opportunities for an ember to land on or near your home and start a fire.
Then we look at the immediate landscape around your home - is there any vegetation or flammable items within 5 feet of your home? (Some plants have a higher flammability rating than others and you're advised not to plant these close to your home!) Is there wood mulch used? Where is the firewood stored? Are there any items stored on or underneath the porch that are flammable?
We, then, move beyond the immediate zone and assess the space between 5 feet to 30 feet of your home, the intermediate zone. Do you have vertical attachments (fences, trellises or retaining walls) or outbuildings near the home? Are plants and trees properly maintained and spaced out to avoid a build up of fuel? Are there any branches overhanging your house or porch that may pose a threat?
Moving out beyond the intermediate zone, we're assessing vulnerabilities 100-200 feet from your home called the extended zone. If the house is situated on steep terrain, especially if there is a steep hill below the house, we bring this zone out to 150-200 feet from the home. We're looking at the density of vegetation and any mid-story vegetation build up (in between the ground and the tree canopy) that may lead a ground fire to the top of a tree, aka: "ladder fuels". We also look at the driveway access. Is it accessible for emergency vehicles to reach the house? Are there branches overhanging the driveway or vegetation impeding access? Is the 911 address visible and easy to read coming from both directions of the street?
After the assessment, which takes anywhere from 30 min to an hour, we'll discuss tasks you can do to reduce your risk. This may be simply clearing leaves and dead vegetation from your roof, gutters, and underneath porches. Other suggestions might involve thinning vegetation near your home or installing 1/8" metal mesh screening below your porch to keep leaves and debris from accumulating. The assessment is good for 5 years and will be sent to you via email for your records. Cost-share assistance is available to help you complete mitigation tasks within 100 feet from your home and 10 feet from your driveway.
Community assessments can also be conducted, a large-scale assessment identifying community-wide risks and recommendations. Factors include proximity to fire departments, number of homes, terrain and fuel load. Contact the NCFS Wildfire Mitigation Forester for community assessments.