The near-annual house losses in huge California wildfires is another reason why fire safety and prevention have taken on a whole new slant across the country. There is an ever-evolving set of rules, tips and advice that address what's needed to protect property from fires that start outdoors ... and spread. Thinking ahead is a key to being prepared for protection of your property. It's something that every homeowner should know about, but for a couple of groups of residents, however, it is most essential.
Rural homes have historically been farm families. But in recent years, a new target addresses the growing number of homeowners who are used to living where they have had the protection of a paid, full-time fire department. They're now living in the "sub-suburbs," where town and country living meet and sometimes interface. Quite often these are volunteer fire protection areas where response time may be delayed.
It's very common to build and use rural homes as if they were still in town. Awareness is needed for taking steps to help their property withstand airborne sparks and be a "defensible space" for volunteer firefighters. They're at real risk for being in a wildfire's path.
Extreme dry conditions last fall and winter probably accounted for the majority of the recent losses across Kansas. The following factors and suggestions provided by state foresters, even by themselves, can make a difference in protecting suburban and rural property and preventing fires:
* All power equipment — from leaf blowers to tractors — has an appropriate, functioning spark arrestor.
* Roofing materials are fire-resistant — e.g., metal, tile or at least Class C shingles.
* Exterior chimney vents are covered with a non-flammable wire mesh with one-half inch or smaller openings.
* Windows are at least double paned. (Radiant heat still can ignite flammable materials through those windows, so you also must move curtains, furniture and the like away when wildfire danger is near.)
* Siding is stone, brick or other non-flammable material, not wood or vinyl.
* Your address is clearly visible from the road, even in low visibility conditions.
* Firewood piles, propane tanks and gasoline are stored at least 30 feet from the home.
* All evergreen trees, such as pines and cedars, within 100 feet of the house, have no less than 10 feet of space between their leaf crowns. This one can be tough to accomplish with many of our established windbreaks.
* No dead vegetation is within the 100-feet zone. (Worst case is to leave dead branches overhanging the roof or hanging within 15 feet of a chimney.) Landscaping plants that retain their dry foliage during the winter, such as ornamental grasses, should be pruned to ground level at the end of the growing season.
* Be aware of cropping or grazing areas around the property that have seasonal dry residue that could ignite and spread flames quickly.
* Trees near power lines have a mature height of less than 25 feet, or they have been pruned for safety by an arborist.
* All outdoor burning must be conducted with extreme care, including readily available active water hydrants with hoses attached.
* Regular lawn mowing, pruning and weeding helps keep the (fire) fuel load from building up.
* Plant and maintain a "green zone" at least 30 feet wide with cool season turf such as fescue, immediately around the home perimeter. Occasional watering in the dormant winter season also will maintain a moist condition that will reduce spreading flames.
* Outdoor smokers-grills have a designated clear space that's no less than three feet around the smoker. Using the provided safety ash tray is a requirement, not an option.
* No smoker-grills closer than 10 feet of the house eaves, and no grill or smoker operation on a flammable patio.
* Before disposal, used charcoal briquettes and ashes are drowned, stirred and soaked again until out cold.
* Few to no flammable materials are within 30 feet of the house. This includes items stored under porches or stairs. Foundation landscaping should be designed with material that can be fire-resistant.
* The family has a preparedness plan that starts with maintained fire extinguishers and functioning smoke alarms and then includes: clearly posted emergency phone numbers, designated escape routes and off-site meeting places, and be sure everyone is aware.
Wildfires have always been part of the Kansas landscape. As our population increases, so does the need to protect life and property from those fires. Sometimes, though, the best protection is the steps you take for yourself — particularly out where the size and behavior of a wildfire could go beyond the limits and resources of a rural fire department.
More information about Kansas' Fire Wise program is available at any Kansas State University Research and Extension office, from any district Kansas Forest Service office and on the Web at http://www.kansasforests.org/fire/wui/index.shtml.
Tree seedling sale
We're in our final week of the fall containerized tree seedling sales through the Kansas Forest Service. Trees are for conservation plantings such as shelter belts for rural homes, wildlife plantings, field or livestock windbreaks. Trees are in bunches of 25 to 30, either bare root or small containers. The plants are generally about 15 to 20 inches in height. Orders will continue to be taken until Friday.
Sold-out items at this time include black walnut, pecan, sawtooth oak and swamp white oak, and they're getting low on bur oak, English oak, fragrant sumac and lacebark elm. Evergreens are still in good supply.
Non-plant items including marking flags, rabbit protective tubes, root slurry, tree tubes and weed barrier fabric are still available. A complete list is available at the Extension office, online or by calling directly to the office in Manhattan. Orders also can be placed online at www.kansasforests.org, or call us at (888) 740-8733.