How to prevent your house from burning during a wildfire

We can benefit from Dr. Jack Cohen’s research

house survived

Above: Screenshot from the NFPA video below.

In light of the article posted earlier today reporting on Secretary Ryan Zinke’s order for the Department of the Interior to be more aggressive about conducting fuel treatment activities to better protect facilities from burning in a wildfire, this video is very appropriate.

Nobody knows more than Dr. Jack Cohen about why and how structures burn. He also knows what homeowners can do to make their homes fire resistant.

Before recently retiring, Dr. Cohen was a Fire Science Researcher with the U.S. Forest Service.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

8 thoughts on “How to prevent your house from burning during a wildfire”

  1. Great video! Not everyone can afford a custom home, but they can afford the clean-up and some simple landscaping tweaks. Many benefits – landscaping gravel touching the home rather than bark, not only is far more fire resistant, it doesn’t develop the buggy infestations like cockroaches that decomposing pine bark can host that then can easily get into the structure. This was a good reminder to take a walk around and notice what was overlooked in normal seasonal clean-ups. Also, maybe order some of those ‘fire-proof’ trees from the surviving house photo. (!?!)

  2. Bill, I was very happy to see this article. The timing is perfect since my youngest recently purchased a home in the WUI of Eldorado County, California. You know the old adage: :If they hear it from someone other than a parent.” Thanks,jw

  3. So you clean up your property (100 feet) and make sure close (30 feet) proximity to your home ignition sources are reduced. Winds blows during the night and the next morning your fire preparedness is back to square one. Needles and leafs every where. Once again go through the routine of fire preparing your property. Regardless how conscience you are with clean up there will ALWAYS be an ignition source you missed or occurred (wind) overnight. Here is the answer to structure fire protection. You must install external sprinklers if you want to get really get serious about saving your home. This is not rocket science. The sprinkler of choice is Ecel Wobbler. Stay away from impact sprinklers. Any plumber or landscape company can install. Example a two story 3000 square foot home, six rooftop Wobblers (won’t even know they are installed) thirty seconds after activation water spraying on gutters/decks/roof interception of fire brands around the home. The wind which (there will be wind) carries fire brands will transport the mist from the Wobblers to effect extinguishment. Total water flow less than fifteen gallons per minute. Fire ground tested. No power needed, only water! The home saved from the wildfire did I see fire engine tracks?

    1. If you are going to have a vested interest in protecting your property, a 500 gallon water tank, generator (little doubt the power will go down) and of all things a 5 h.p. 150 g.p.m gas pump with hose and nozzle, hard mounted sprinklers on roof. No one wants to spend any amount of money to protect their property. That is why we have fire insurance. The insurance companies will take care of us.

    2. Well, if it’s feasible budget-wise. In some places it’s worth investing in despite the extra expense, especially if it’s actually not too much. Very situational. Power lines are funny, too. In one area, the line comes in from the west, yet, across the street from the east. People don’t usually notice those boundary lines until something bad happens. It thus is possible in a big interface type fire for an entire sector to be without power, but seemingly oddly, not the next neighbor. The sprinklers would be working very well, fully-powered. Obviously, it works both ways; a few neighbors could be struggling without power while everyone else is fine. It is an issue to raise, though, that wells do need pump power. An emergency backup power for any property with a well is a very, very good idea, regardless. Power outages that result in inconvenient water supply interruption are common enough without dangerous fires as an aggravating factor.

  4. thank you for this pragmatic and useful information jack! i have been searching for this for some time and it is refreshing to see some of the research.

    we have done all the passive, preventative stuff, but being our home is 5′ from the property line and the land next to us is not maintained (undeveloped, ladder fuels, and brush with absent landowner) i installed active sprinkler systems involving irrigation sprayers hard plumbed under the eaves of the house, with an additional circuit of sprayers about 30′ out from the structure on the forested side of our building. i also have shutters for the windows, metal roof and backup power to operate our well pump. with the turn of a single valve there is a fog of water spraying around the entire structure wetting the walls, deck, window covers and along the property line from sprayers mounted on our metal fence. i also have a 2500 gallon tank with pump inside and 100′ of 3/4″ hose, and large nozzle specifically for fire fighting. it can shoot an easy 30′ to 40′ stream.

    question #1:
    how can i get a copy of your research paper on building fire safe?

    question #2:
    is there any research on active systems like this… how they perform and what works and what doesn’t? california requires fire sprinklers on the inside of newly constructed homes, but there is nothing about exterior systems for this. i hear anecdotal stories of people who did not evacuate and saved their home with garden hoses… what i have is much more than a garden hose and i would like research/ data on the effectiveness of these systems.


    todd cory
    mount shasta, ca

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *