It’s an awful sight. Smoke billowing into the sky, sirens wailing, and chaos amongst residents (both human and animal). A fire in your home, barn, shed, or chicken coop is devastating and the loss of shelter and livestock can be lifechanging.
The good news is, you can prevent a fire on your homestead by understanding a few basic fire risk factors and using that to do a fire risk assessment of your homestead.
So let’s dig in and learn how to identify the risk factors of your home or homestead, and what you can do to keep it safe if a fire should occur.
Is Your Homestead Vulnerable to Fire?
Unfortunately, no one is free from the risk of a devastating fire. But you can learn how to anticipate fires and do a fire risk assessment to understand how your homestead may be vulnerable to the threat of fires.
Having a few preventative measures in place will go a long way if a fire is already in progress. If nothing else, prevention can buy you and your local fire department the time they need to take action.
Asses the following factors to identify where your homestead may be the most vulnerable for fire.
1. Seasonal Fire Hazards
Unfortunately, fires aren’t restricted to a certain time of year. However, the autumn months, or dry months, are often considered times of high fire risk.
The winter months force us, outdoorsy folks, inside, and we turn to our furnaces and fireplaces for warmth. Sadly, these are also the items that cause the majority of house fires during the winter.
And of course, we emerge in the spring, ready for bonfires and camping, which in turn, can contribute to forest fires, even when the earth is still damp from the thaw.
So we aren't immune to fires year-round, but there are different threats throughout the seasons.
2. Your Homestead's Environment
Where you live can also determine your home’s fire risk. With raging wildfires in the west, there is a much higher risk for wildfires than elsewhere.
Still, no one is exempt from wildfires, no matter where you live.
3. The Higher You Go, The Faster the Fire
If you live on a hill, fire will travel to your homestead much faster than it would if you lived at the bottom of the hill.
Slopes are easier for fires to spread through, especially if the slope is quite steep.
4. Hot and Dry Weather
Draughts and hot weather (without the humidity) will put your homestead at risk for fires spreading from burning brush, waste, campfires, cigarette buts and even shiny glass shards.
5. Storage Items That May Cause Fires
Hot equipment, gasoline, heat lamps, and other mechanical or electrical equipment can cause fires if not maintained properly. Should one of these fail and start a fire, this small electrical fire can quickly change into a devasting fire if there's dry grass or hay nearby.
Speaking of hay, according to North Dakota State University, “High-moisture haystacks and bales can catch on fire because they have chemical reactions that build heat. Hay insulates, so the larger the haystack, the less cooling that occurs to offset the heat. When hay’s internal temperature rises above 130° Fahrenheit (55° Celsius), a chemical reaction begins to produce flammable gas that can ignite if the temperature goes high enough.”
You can prevent hay from starting on fire by ensuring your fields are dry before baling them.
Keep in mind that some structures may have a higher risk, for example, stables or sheds with bedding of pine shavings, firewood sheds, very old structures with dried wood, and storage facilities for gasoline.
Surprisingly, your lovely landscaping may also be a fire hazard. Mulch, for example, is quite combustible. A stray spark or a friend’s cigarette butt could smolder and eventually lit a fire from the dry mulch in your flower bed.
Watering your landscaping, especially mulch, regularly can help prevent it from starting on fire if an accelerator (match, cigarette, lighter, spark) is introduced.
7. Wind Carries the Flame
If you are upwind from a fire, you are at risk of it spreading into your property. Wind can carry burning ash and drop it on to your structures.
Just being upwind from a spreading fire puts your home and structures at risk.
Campfires, smokers, grills, fireworks, and grass fires can all cause fires if they aren’t managed appropriately.
Neighbors may be enjoying a holiday or special occasion and inadvertently send a firecracker over your rooftop. If you have neighbors close by, their festivities, which are largely out of your control, could be risk factors for your home.
Minimize the Risk of Fire With These Tips
As you can see, there’s a lot of things on this list that are beyond your control. But the good news is, there’s a lot you can do to minimize the risk of a devastating fire on your property.
1. Landscaping for Fire Protection
Homeowners in areas plagued with wildfires have taken to landscaping intentionally to prevent a fire from spreading to their structures.
Those utilizing landscaping to help minimize the risk of fire use plants with high-moisture content, rocks, and hardwoods in their designs, to name a few ideas. Using your irrigation as well as stored irrigation water as a backstop for fire, is an excellent example of smart planning.
2. Firebreaks to Stop A Fire
A firebreak is something that prevents a fire from spreading. This is a useful method for those who know they’re living in a high-risk area.
Typically, a firebreak is a space that doesn’t have combustible materials for the fire to spread to. There aren’t any leaves, grasses, trees, or other vegetation in a firebreak which leaves the fire with nowhere to go but out.
Roads can also be considered firebreaks but if the fire is big enough, or it’s windy enough, it will easily jump across the break.
At appropriate times, a firebreak is intentionally burnt, as shown above, to reduce the risk of a runaway fire spreading.
3. Fire-fighting Equipment and Alarms
Planning and setting up your homestead in advance to cope with fire is invaluable. Do a fire risk assessment and play the ‘what-if' game for any eventuality. Ensure you have early warning systems in place, such as emergency communication arrangements with neighbors and the community, and smoke alarms in various structures around the homestead, including your chicken coop and barn.
Invest in fire prevention and fire fighting equipment, and ensure every person on your homestead knows what to do.
Fire-Fighting Equipment To Have on Hand
- Sprinkler system
- Water tanks or rain collection barrels
- Submersible pumps
- Plenty of hoses
- Fire Extinguishers
- Smoke Detectors
- Fire Prevention Equipment
At the end of the day, a fire can start unexpectedly and catch anyone off guard. Knowing how to predict the possibility of a fire based on a fire risk assessment for your homestead, will help you in your prevention efforts.
Most importantly, at the first sign a fire that has the potential to get out of control, call 911 and enlist the pros to help you save your beloved homestead.