Friday, May 20, 2011

Wildfires

Wildfires are a fact of life in much of the west.  Different geographies, climates, and even neighborhood characteristics influence the individual risk to each of our properties, but it is something we should each be mindful of.  Several organizations publish helpful information; I’ve pulled together some ideas from a few sources.
This spring, Texas has dealt with a number of major wildfires, devestating parts of the state and displacing a great many people. It came close to home in April, when an untended campfire near the Y at Oak Hill spread and damaged or destroyed nearly two dozen homes just a few miles from us.

Wildfires are a fact of life in much of the west. Different geographies, climates, and even neighborhood characteristics influence the individual risk to each of our properties, but it is something we should each be mindful of. Several organizations publish helpful information; I’ve pulled together some ideas from a few sources.

The first piece to fire safety is simple: don’t be the one to cause a wildfire. Pay attention to county burn bans. Don’t burn brush, yard waste, rubbish – or campfires – on windy days or in extremely dry conditions. When you do burn, make sure the fire is out and cold before leaving it unwatched. If you choose to smoke, dispose of matches and butts responsibly. Use common sense with fireworks. Take care when mowing – the rocks our yards grow can act as flint to the metal blades of a lawn mower or shredder, creating sparks. Avoid parking in tall grass – parts of the exhaust system are hot enough to ignite dry grass.

Since you can’t control the actions of others, the second piece to fire safety is protecting your property from a wildfire that is already started. Keep roofs and gutters clear of leaves and other flammable debris. Whenever practical, use non-flammable roofing – metal, most asphalt, or tile. Store firewood well away from the house (this helps with termites too!) Do the same with other combustibles – wood boats, picnic tables, etc. Maintain a buffer zone around your home; keep this buffer area free of dead branches, trees, shrubs, etc. Keep the grass mown short in this buffer zone. Texas Forest Service recommends this zone be at least 30 feet, or more if there are very tall trees outsize the zone that could fall toward the house. If there are trees in this zone, trim branches to at least 15 feet off the ground, and avoid understory plantings that a fire could use as a “ladder” to reach the tree canopy. Consider using non-combustible materials for fences that contact the house, and consider moving combustible play structures (swing sets, play houses, etc) at least 30 feet from the house. Don’t store flammable materials under the deck.

The third piece to fire safety is to be ready to respond in case there is a fire. Keep garden hoses handy and connected. In areas without ready access to a fire hydrant, a swimming pool or stock tank can serve as a water supply for the fire department – if they can get a truck near it. Make sure your property is accessible to a fire truck – keep driveways clear of overgrown brush and other obstructions, and consider keeping a clear pathway to the back of your home. If a fire is in the area, pay attention to official personnel, and if told to evacuate – do so. A home is a terrible thing to lose – but your life (and that of your family) is much more valuable.

The Texas Forest Service (http://texasforestservice.tamu.edu/main/article.aspx?id=12298), firewise.org, and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (http://www.fire.ca.gov/ and http://www.readyforwildfire.org/) are excellent sources for more detailed information.

For those in Central Texas, the Hays County Fire Marshall has a Wildland Fire Action Guide full of concise advice and checklists. The county communicates to residents through an emergency notification system (instructions for signing up are available from the Fire Marshall link above) as well as the website haysinformed.com.

Do you have something to add? A question you'd like answered? Think I'm out of my mind? Join the conversation below, reach out by email at david (at) securityforrealpeople.com, or hit me up on Twitter at @dnlongen

Whois David?

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I have spent the better part of two decades in information technology and security, with roots in application developer support, system administration, and network security. My specialty is cyber threat intelligence - software vulnerabilities and patching, malware, social networking risks, etc. In particular, I strive to write about complex cyber topics in a way that can be understood by those outside the infosec industry.

Why do I do this? A common comment I get from friends and family is that complex security topics give them headaches. They want to know in simple terms how to stay safe in a connected world. Folks like me and my peers have chosen to make a profession out of hacking and defending. I've been doing this for the better part of two decades, and so have a high degree of knowledge in the field. Others have chosen different paths - paths where I would be lost. This is my effort to share my knowledge with those that are experts in something else.

When not in front of a digital screen, I spend my time raising five rambunctious teens and pre-teens - including two sets of twins. Our family enjoys archery, raising show and meat rabbits, and simply enjoying life in the Texas hill country.

For a decade I served as either Commander or a division leader for the Awana Club in Dripping Springs, Texas; while I have retired from that role I continue to have a passion for children's ministry. At the moment I teach 1st through 3rd grade Sunday School. Follow FBC Dripping Springs Kids to see what is going on in our children's ministries.