Living with fire

Living with fireDefensible Space | Defensible Space FAQ | Wildfire Approaches | Lean, Green, and Clean

Protect your home

Much of the Southwest is considered a high-hazard fire environment.  Based on recent history, the areas possess all the ingredients necessary to support large, intense and uncontrollable wildfires.

Within this hazardous environment are individual houses, subdivisions, and entire communities.  Many of these homeowners, however, are ill-prepared to survive an intense wildfire.  Since it is not a question of if a wildfire will occur, but when, the likelihood of human life and property loss is great and growing.

There is increasing recognition that our ability to live more safely in this fire environment depends on pre-fire activities.  These are actions taken before wildfire occurs that improve the survivability of people and homes.  We cannot fireproof the forest, but we can provide proper vegetation management around the home (known as defensible space), use of fire-resistant building materials, appropriate subdivision design, and other measures.  Research clearly indicates that pre-fire activities save lives and protect property.

The look of our Southwestern forests changed dramatically during the 20th Century. Our forests have experienced a huge biomass increase.  In many instances, tree size is smaller, stands are more dense, and insect and disease outbreaks rampant.  Fire, which plays an integral role in our Southwester forests ecosystems, can become catastrophic due to fuel build-up.

This information is provided to homeowners, and the general public, and identifies activities that will help you coexist more safely with wildfire.

For additional information and sources of assistance, contact your nearest state land department, USDA Forest Service, USDI Bureau of Land Management, UDSI Bureau of Indian Affairs, USDI National Park Service, USDI Fish and Wildlife Service or your local fire department.


  1. Remove dead branches overhanging your roof
  2. Remove any branches within 15 feet of your chimney
  3. Clean all dead leaves and needles from your roof and gutters.  Install a roof that meets the fire resistance classification of “Class C or better.  Local jurisdictions may require a higher fire resistance rating.  Check with your fire marshal.
  4. Cover your chimney outlet and stovepipe with a non-flammable screen of 1/2 inch or smaller mesh.


  1. Build your home away from ridgetops, canyons and areas between high points on a ridge
  2. Build your home at least 30 feet from your property line.
  3. Use fire resistant building materials
  4. Enclose the underside of balconies and above-ground decks with fire resistant materials.
  5. Limit the size and number of windows in your home that face large areas of vegetation
  6. Install only dual-paned or triple-paned windows.
  7. Consider sprinkler systems within the house.  They may protect your home while you’re away or prevent a house fire from spreading into the wildlands.


  1. Maintain an emergency water supply that meets fire department standards through one of the following:
    • a community water/hydrant system
    • a cooperative emergency storage tank with neighbors
    • a minimum storage supply of 2,500 gallons on your property
  2. Clearly mark all emergency water sources and notify your local fire department of their existence.
  3. Create easy firefighter access to your closes emergency water source.
  4. If your water comes from a well, consider emergency generator to operate the pump during a power failure.


  1. Stack wood piles at least 30 feet from all structures and clear away flammable vegetation within 10 feet of wood piles
  2. Locate LPG tanks (butane and propane) at least 30 feet from any structure and surround them with 10 feet of clearance
  3. Remove all stacks of construction materials, pine needles, leaves, and other debris from your yard.
  4. Contact your local fire department to see if open burning is allowed in your area; if so, obtain a permit before burning debris.
  5. Where burn barrels are allowed, clear flammable materials at least 10 feet around the barrel; cover the open top with a non-flammable screen with mesh no larger than 1/4 inch.


  1. Identify at least two exit routes from your neighborhood
  2. Construct roads that allow 2-way traffic
  3. Design road width, grade, and curves to allow access for large emergency vehicles.
  4. Construct driveways to allow large emergency equipment to reach your house.
  5. Design bridges to carry heavy emergency vehicles, including bulldozers carried on large trucks.
  6. Post clear road signs to show traffic restrictions such as dead-end roads, and weight and height limitations.
  7. Make sure dead-end roads and long driveways have turnaround areas wide enough for emergency vehicles.  Construct turnouts along one-way roads.
  8. Clear flammable vegetation at least 10 feet from roads and 5 feet from driveways.
  9. Cut back overhanging tree branches above roads.
  10. Construct fire barriers, such as greenbelts, parks, golf courses, and athletic fields.
  11. Make sure your street is named or numbered, and a sign is visibly posted at each street intersection.
  12. Make sure your street name and house number are not duplicated elsewhere in the county.
  13. Post your house address at the beginning of your driveway, or on your house if it is easily visible from the road.


  1. Designate an emergency meeting place outside your home.
  2. Practice emergency exit drills regularly.
  3. Make sure electric service lines, fuse boxes and circuit breaker panels are installed and maintained as prescribed by code.
  4. Contact qualified individuals to perform electrical maintenance and repairs.


A house can be threatened by a wildfire in three ways:  direct exposure to flames, radiated heat, and airborne firebrands.  Of these, firebrands account for the majority of homes burned by wildfire.  The most vulnerable part of a house to firebrands is the roof.

Because of its angle, the roof can catch and trap firebrands.  If the roof is constructed of combustible materials such as untreated wood shakes and shingles, the house is in jeopardy of igniting and burning.

Not only are combustible roofing materials a hazard to the structure on which they are installed, but also to other houses in the vicinity.  Burning wood shakes, for example, can become firebrands, be lifted from the burning roof, carried blocks away, and land in receptive fuel beds such as other combustible roofs.

Unfortunately for homeowners with existing combustible roofs, there are no long-term reliable measures available to reduce roof vulnerability to wildfire other than re-roofing with fire resistant materials.