I’ve never, ever thought about fire as much as I have this year…
I know that some of you in other parts of the country are dealing with too much moisture and cool temps. But, we are the exact opposite here in our corner of Wyoming.
We’ve had various wildfire raging all over the parts of Wyoming and Colorado that are somewhat close to where we live. As I type, there is a out-of-control wildfire burning in the areas north of us. Last I heard, it was over 90,000 acres with little containment. That particular fire isn’t threatening our homestead at all, but the smoke blew in yesterday and turned the sky snow-white as it blocked out the sun. I could barely see the landmarks less than a mile away from our house…
Although in the past, I’ve complained about the serious lack of trees out here on the prairie, this year I am thankful. Generally, grassfires are somewhat easier to extinguish than the fires in timber. However, with the epic drought conditions we’ve been suffering from this year, that doesn’t mean our property still isn’t at risk from fire.
All it would simply take someone tossing a cigarette out the window on the road bordering the backside of our property, and our pasture could be on fire in minutes…
Obviously, there is a lot to think about when it comes to preparing or evacuating in the case of a fire.
I spent some time the other night talking with my husband about our fire preparedness plans. He is a volunteer fire fighter and shared some great ideas that I thought some of you might find useful as well.
Ultimately, God is in control of well-being of my homestead, and I won’t lay awake worrying about it since He know what will and will not happen. However, we will be taking a few extra precautions this year to make our home and structures more defensible in the instance that a fire visits our land.
(Please note- this is not meant to be a comprehensive list. I am not a fire science expert. However, I hope it will get you thinking towards preparedness, as that is the most important first step.)
Preparing Your Homestead for Wildfire
- Clean up piles of trash or brush piles. If fire fighters are trying to keep the fire from reaching your home, you want to have as little fuel for the fire laying around as possible.
- Cut down dead trees and shrubs.
- Keep your grass and pastures short. We have several large areas of unfenced grass surrounding our house and barn. Because they are not grazed, it’s easy for the grass in those areas to become quite tall. My husband spends a considerable amount of time on the tractor mowing each year to make sure those areas would provide as little fuel as possible for a prairie fire.
- Think about natural barriers. Things like green grass, bare dirt, roads, or rock are all helpful natural fire barriers. Obviously, it depends on your homestead as to which will work best for you. The goal is to slow down an approaching fire as much as possible.
- If you are building or remodeling a structure, take note of non-combustible building materials. Choosing safe shingles and siding is something to consider if you live in a dry area. This website has some excellent info regarding building materials, location, and plans.
- Have heavy drapes or curtains on your windows that you can close in the event of an approaching fire.
- Have plenty of hoses and keep them readily available during fire season.
- Consider planting a “fire mix” type of grass seed. This is new to me, but this page from Colorado State has tables and info about different mixes of grass seed that are more fire resistant than others.
- Store firewood or hay stacks away from buildings.
- Make sure your animals are clearly identified. Use ear tags or brands to mark your animals in case you must cut fences to free them in a hurry.
- Talk to neighbors to find out who might have a truck with water pumping capabilities. If I were ever to spot a fire close to us, I would first call 911, and then immediately call the neighbor down the road who has a small fire truck. I’m betting he could probably be here quicker than anyone else.
- Have a plan of where you can take your family and your animals in the event of an evacuation.
- If a fire is in the area, but you aren’t sure if it will be an issue for you or not, have your truck and trailer hooked up and ready to go in case you need to transport animals in a hurry.
- Store important papers such as social security cards, birth certificates, or animal registration papers in a fire-proof safe. Or, have them in a bag that you can easily grab in a hurry.
- Check out this article from Colorado State University for more ideas and checklists.
Hopefully, if you take these steps in preparing your homestead for fire and they will be completely unnecessary. But, even so, it never hurts to be prepared.
Like I mentioned above, this isn’t a comprehensive list- just some of the things I’ve been thinking of this year.
Although winter is a ways off, I’m already praying that we get a lot of snow this year to help make up our severe moisture deficient… Hopefully I’ll need the Homesteader’s Blizzard Checklist come January!
What other wildfire tips can you share in the comments?
An excellent post on preparing for wildfires. We also live near the large fire burning in WY. Depending on wind direction, the smoke can be overwhelming. There is much we can do around our home (getting rid of brush piles, cutting tall grass, etc). We’re praying that the rain which is forecast for the weekend will reach the area. There are weather condition problems all over the country, and our hearts and prayers are with all. Thanks again for the blog!
Yes, it’s definitely been a crazy weather year for the US… Here’s hoping that we both get some of that forecasted rain! 🙂
Mom of 2 says
Great post, although I was upset when I saw the photo of the brand on that poor animal. I know that is how people keep track of their cattle, but there are more humane ways to do it. When my tween daughter saw this post, she asked me what that picture was. When I explained it to her, she was horrified.
I understand that the concept of branding an animal is disturbing to those who have never been around it. We currently don’t have our small herd branded, mainly because we figured our operation was “too small” to mess with it. However, after talking with our ranching neighbors, we are in the process of registering our brand. There are still active rings of cattle rustlers that are known to cut fences, slip in, load your cattle, and take them to the sale barn. Ear tags can be cut off, and if the animal isn’t branded, you have no way of proving it was yours. Also, having been to many cattle brandings over the years, I can assure you that it’s not as traumatic as you might think. The calves bawl for only a minute, then they jump up and act like it never happened. 🙂
Jennifer W. says
I’m just curious why you want to have heavy drapes?
If a fire is very near your home, heavy curtains can help to block the radiant heat from catching things inside your home on fire. Obviously though, if the fire actually reaches your home, the curtains won’t help much.
Some good tips…
We are on the Colorado Prairie. Last week, we had a grass fire in out pasture. It was only about a football field away from our house and burned the pasture on two sides of our house. (I posted my blog post about it on your last barnhop… http://colaurado.blogspot.com/2012/06/fire.html )
I think I was about the most scared that I had ever been.
Good point about the bare dirt… maybe free range chickens that have ruined the grass surrounding my house are a good thing.
Since we’re in Colorado and the recent Colorado Springs fire was only about 90 miles from us, I had thought about what we would do if we had to evacuate like that, with some time on our hands. I thought about making a list with my husband, of important stuff that we would grab, if we had let’s say two hours to evacuate.
Have you thought about using an electric fence and having some animals graze down the area that’s not fenced that grows high? We have the animals do the work so that my husband doesn’t spend too much time mowing.
I have looked at your post, and honestly, after experiencing the pasture fire just a week ago, I’m not sure if having any of that implemented may have helped us… maybe just not having firewood spread out on the prairie… I think what it really boils down to is God’s grace.
I agree Laura- It really does force you to realize that God ulimately is in control of the situation, b/c sometimes our best efforts will still be pointless. It really depends on the situation as to whether this tips can help or not.
I guess my main “inspiration” of writing this post was hearing my hubby tell me about a beautiful home he and some other firefighers were trying to defend a month or so ago in a smaller wildfire north of us. They spent an entire night ripping down trees, moving firewood piles, and trying to make the house as defendable as possible. (It was in a wooded area). Oftentimes, crews will be put on “structure protection” and guard a house as a fire moves around it. But, your home must be deemed “defendable” first. (A defendable home would have some of the features included in my blog post) Obviously, most of us are not going to rip down all of our trees “just in case”, but I think if we can do small things to help the efforts beforehand, all the better.
And, a grassfire versus a forest fire also makes a big difference.
great post… my hubby is in Wyoming as I type this fighting the Arapahoe fire outside of South of Douglas… my prayers are with you all……. the one thing I know that he always comments on is that driveways need to be cleared wide enough and tall enough for the fire fighters to get equipment up to your house to help protect it. Here in Oregon the fire guys come and give you a warning once a year…. make it so that we can get in…. or we will pass you up. They can’t take time to fight their way in to one house when others are easy access.
Yes, very good point about the driveways Barbara. And in fact, the Arapahoe fire is the one that is sending us all the smoke. My hubby’s department was waiting to get called out on it, but their chief was afraid to leave our own small district unprotected, so they are sticking close to home for now.
Marie James says
Excellent post, Jill–and so timely. Thanks to you and your husband for sharing these tips.
Brandy Cormier says
I’ve been checking this site: https://sites.google.com/a/wyo.gov/wsfd-fire-information/
… for fires every morning. Since the Arapahoe fire really isn’t all that far away from us here in Douglas, I keep a close eye on it’s progress and pray for rain and all the firefighters down there working hard to get that fire under control. We can barely see the mountains between us and Casper most mornings here. When the wind is blowing a certain way, we get a pretty strong smoke smell in our house.
So scary. Some people in the springs had 3 minutes to evacuate. Could you imagine!? :(. I’d grab my sons remains and items we have left of him if I had that kind of time. My computer too since it has the only pictures we have of him.
The smoke was terrible here yesterday we are just outside of Denver. It was even raining ashes. I hope you’re going to get some of this expected heavy rain headed our way.
yes we have been getting the Laramie smoke. it was really hard for me to breath yesterday morning, but i went out to my goat pen and made a shield in front of their shelter so they were able to get out of it. We also talked about how we will be able to protect our 40 acres since our property butts up to the higway. and since the fire was started by a person we had to take in that someone could toss a cigerette out not thinking and light up the grass out side the property. we are supose to get some rain tonight and im hopeing without the lightning. but with that said there is no way i will be able to do what i did when i lived in california (which was dig out a 3′-5′ trench) digging out my own post wholes is one thing but trying to scrap or dig in this WY soil just wasn’t going to happen. but i thought maybe we can lay out some dirt out there, and hope it would be enough. we have 2 200′ hoses in front and in back. luckly we have no trees but we have a lot of wood posts. thank you for sharing it made me think of some more things. my down fall is i still do not have a horse trailer. i have kennels and pet carriers for the dogs cats and goats and horses are the only thing i dont have transportation for. other projects get in the finance way of that.
Im an Aussie. We live in Victoria ( you may remember the big fires here a few years back?)
I will tell you this much from a life of experience and also havign a fire fighter for a Dad.. DO NOT STAY. No matter what you believe your homestead is worth to you.. PLEASE LEAVE!!
There is no real *safe* time limit if a fire front is approaching. Fire has a mind of its own and that back road everyone used an hour ago to get out, may just be cut off when you need it.
Hoses and an alternative source of pumped water, NOT reliant on standard electricity methods, are good for flooding your porches, grassed areas and especially guttering. Have caps to close off the downpipes and keep gutters filled with water. This will help stave off stray embers. The biggest cause of spot fires all over a property.
Your lives are not replaceable. Clear your land with as safe a fire breaks as you can mangae. Make sure you have a practiced fire evac plan with your loved ones, and be prepared to go at all times. This means keeping animals indoors to grab at the last min. You see, if spot the dog or kerry the cat are missing.. bets are they will be safer on their own out there. If you stay the 10 mins extra to find them.. well you may just die trying.
BE SAFE. Loads of love to you all.
Great post. The brand is almost the same as ours in Alberta. We have bar over reverse D, forward L. I would suggest to phone neighbors before 911 when you have a fire. 911 will lock the phone that you are calling them from, and then you won’t be able to call the neighbors. This has happened to some of our friends around here. Hope you stay safe.
Cool about the brand, Renee! And very good tip regarding 911- I didn’t think of that before.
When I was young and lived on a ranch near Glendo, our house was about a quarter of a mile from the (then) main highway. Each spring Dad always plowed a “fire break” on his land between the house and the highway. Our main fire danger then came from the highway. A “fire break” could also be plowed around the buildings on a farm.
Very good tip Cindy– that might be something for us to consider since the highway is an issue for us as well.
Noël McNeil says
Great Post! We have a fire North of us right now and it is spreading like crazy. We are also expecting to reach 105 this weekend and through next week. Can you say…HOT? We live on irrigated pasture, so we stay pretty green all year round, but one can never be too prepared.
Toni Dunlap says
Been and continue to pray for you all out there!
Thank you Toni!
Thanks for the excellent tips. While we live in Northern Illinois and have not ever had much in the way of wildfires – we are currently in one of the worst droughts in years however. Our corn is turning brown and drying up and believe it or not, that can catch fire too. I never thought I would believe it until a couple of years ago and sure enough an entire corn field was ablaze. We have horses and do have emergency halters for them with ID’s. However, there are some things we certainly need to get on top of and your list helps so much! I will keep you in our prayers as we all pray for rain and an end to the heat, dryness, and fires. God bless!
Thank you for the great tips. We live in high desert and last year had a terrible, week long fire that wiped out homes and businesses. There were so many horses that were trailored to supposed safety, but after several days they were evacuated again. We are now saying you should evacuate your animals at least 30 miles away to prevent having to do it more than once. Love your site by the way!
Nina Nelson says
We live in central Oregon, which has pretty good wildfires every year. My husband was a firefighter for the last ten years, so he was involved in fighting a lot of them (scary for me). We’ve also talked a lot about ways to prevent structure fires. You know you’ve been married to a firefighter for a while when you leave the house and automatically shut all of the doors to form a fire barrier. 🙂 Hope the weather has gotten better where you are.
Since I am in Colorado Springs, this post really hit home! I hope you continue to stay safe this summer. Since this post struck a cord with me I featured it on Your Green Resource this week.
Great post. My husband and his family lost our homes in the 2007 southern California fire storm. We live on 400 conjoined acres that makes one large ranch! One thing I wish I had done was take pictures of everything before we left. Also remember, it’s just “stuff”. The ranch is still here and so are we 🙂
Excellent idea about taking pictures- I will definitely keep that in mind!
Tessa Reeve says
I know that this is probably a non-issue to some people, but what about all your food storage? Do you have it adequately protected from fire? The point I would make is this: a root cellar (or ‘bunker’, or basement if at all possible), some type of underground storage area. This way all your hard work to protect YOUR family’s food source is all protected against fire, wind, rain, heat, loss due to theft, and government seizure in an emergency.
This is especially true when considering some of your other posts about food storage in 5 gallon buckets. It would be a shame to come back from evacuation to find your home gone or destroyed, but even more so to find years of hard work in food preservation gone also because you were unable to ‘pack it up’ in time to take it with you.
Jill Winger says
Really good point Tessa!
Hannah Rudy says
These are some good suggestions and I liked your comment explaining how your husband and the other firefighters had to spend time making the home defendable. The less defensible the home, the more the ff are at risk when doing those things. I was evacuated from my home last summer from the Yarnell Hill Fire and I’ll never forget standing in the doorway 7 months pregnant and hearing the words, “You’re in the path of the fire and your home is not defensible.”
We were lucky to have had time to grab much of what was “important.” But 19 heroes lost their lives trying to defend a town of undefendable homes a few miles from our home. I wish we all would have been more mindful of defensible space. 🙁 Thank you for your post about helping the people who will ultimately have to defend our homes in the event of a wildfire and making their job safer and easier.
Jill Winger says
Oh my goodness, how tragic Hannah. Yes, there is so much risk involved… I’m thankful that your home was spared though.
Brian Smith says
We live in South Texas on what was my Grandparents farm founded in 1936. We have been in a drought and last year was really bad. Running sprinklers from well water just to keep a little green forage for the 2 horses and few goats. We had a fire that started on the neighbors place from faulty wiring. We only lost about 1.5 acres of our 60 acres to the fire we were blessed with a fast response from volunteer fire fighters. neighbor lost all 10 acres of her pasture. I recieved 2nd and 3rd degree burns on my arm while making fire breaks on the tractor. Recovered quickly (lavander oil) from that but then read up on protection of the homestead Some have put sprinklers on the high peaks of there house and barns so that when the threat begins you can turn them on and it will soak down the outside of your house and the immediate are around it. Would run them for a few minutes frequently to keep them functional. Still best to error on the side of caution and evacuate and rebuild if required but if it even slows it down or saves part of your homestead it is worth the few dollars for some sprinklers and PVC to run it.
I worked the wildfire that hit Bastrop, TX four years ago. I saw homes destroyed because they didn’t have “defensible space”. A severe drought occurred the year before and homes were too close to woods with 60 foot trees and dry heavy undergrowth however, some had clearings and still burned. Why? With a 6o mph + fire storm the flames blew horizontal and sent embers into the attic through vents under the eaves. CYA is the takeaway.
Jill Winger says
Ugh, so scary!
Joe Cartlidge says
Like your husband, I’m a volunteer FF here in Colorado. Ultimately, fire behavior boils down to fuel, weather and topography, and of those, the only one that humans can affect is fuel.
In addition to the great list of items you’ve already mentioned, there are a couple others I recommend. The first is creating more defensible space by thinning out trees on your property. 10 feet between canopies is recommended. The second is ”limbing” or removing lower branches from live trees that can otherwise serve as part of a fuel ladder allowing a fire to climb from the ground into the tree canopy. Limb to at least 6 feet high but 8-10 feet is recommended. Take care and thanks for the great posts!