As a landowner or homeowner, you can help a firefighter significantly by preparing your home before a wildfire occurs and by having a plan of action, should you need to evacuate.
Other sections of Idaho Firewise address topics on protecting your home and community from wildland fire. (See Defensible Space, Firewise Landscaping, and Firewise Building Materials) Not only will following and applying these guidelines improve the chances of your home surviving a wildfire event, they also aid a firefighter greatly by creating a safe place to work. But along with creating survivable space, landscaping, and proper construction, you should also pay close attention to the access firefighters have to your structure and property. This includes:
- Driveway and Access Road Clearance: Remove flammable vegetation extending at least ten feet away from both sides of the driveway and access roads. Overhead obstructions such as overhanging branches and power lines should be removed or raised to provide at least a fifteen foot vertical clearance.
- Road Width and Grade: Roads and long driveways should be at least twelve feet wide with no more than twelve percent slope.
- Turnarounds: Homes located at the end of long driveways or dead-end roads should have turnaround areas large enough to accommodate large fire equipment. Turnarounds can be cul-de-sac with at least a forty-five foot radius or a location suitable for a three point turn.
- Turnouts: Homes that are located at the end of long driveways or dead end roads can discourage firefighters from attempting to access your property and create difficulties for two-way access. If possible, create turnouts along these access areas to allow for easier passages and turning around.
- Septic Systems: Using signs or fencing to indicate the location of septic tanks or leaching fields can prevent damage to both property and equipment. No one likes swimming in raw sewage.
- Well House: Use signs to indicate where the well house and other water sources are located on the property.
- Road Signs: Getting to your structure is half the battle. Having proper signing ensures that firefighters can find your home in the event you have a wildfire event. Signs should be at least four inches in height and be made of reflective non combustible material.
- Address: Along with proper signing, having your address visible from the road is also important when firefighters are trying to locate your home. As with the road signs, your address sign should be at least four inches in height and made of reflective non combustible material.
- Bridges, Culverts, and Cattle Guards: Inadequately built bridges, culverts, and cattle guards can be disastrous for heavy fire equipment that may be trying to access your property. When building and installing these items, ensure that they are rated to support equipment such as fire engines. Whenever possible, post the allowable weight limit in a visible location.
- Avoid Onlooking: Even though you will be curious and worried about a wildfire in your neighborhood, avoid driving your car or even walking to watch firefighters and/or firefighting efforts. In many cases, firefighters must stop fighting fire because onlookers are in dangerous areas or homeowners’ vehicles have blocked road access to the fire. Most air support equipment, such as helicopters and air tankers, will not be able to drop water or retardant if you are in the area. If firefighters ask you to leave the area, they are asking you to do so because they are concerned for your safety.
Even with proper planning around your home and property it may be necessary to evacuate (linked to the page about evacuations/plans), should a wildfire advance toward your community. Before a wildfire or other type of disaster strikes, have a plan of action for you, your family, and your pets. Waiting until the last moment to leave your home increases the chances of entrapment on the road and/or blocking access to firefighters and equipment that are traveling to your home or other locations in your community. If evacuation is necessary, listen to the radio or public address system for instructions. Pay attention to the instructions regarding the type of evacuation being instructed. In some cases, it may not always be done by vehicle.
For guidance on evacuation and disaster planning, visit our Evacuation section.