To better understand what residents can do in the immediate area around their homes, NFPA's Firewise staff spoke with Jeremy Keller, who serves with the Macochee Joint Ambulance District and Bellefontaine Fire & EMS, in Ohio. Jeremy also serves on NFPA's Technical Commitee on Wildland and Rural Fire Protection. He shared observations in the September 2014 Firewise Virtual Workshop on rural community preparedness. Here, he again provides his responder perspective on what you can do to make both your home and your local firefighters safer from wildfire.
Q: Burning embers pose a great ignition risk in the 0- to 5-foot zone around a structure. Since porches are often in this zone, what do you suggest residents do concerning risks on, around, and under porches?
A: Porches and decks pose potential ignition exposure in two ways: They can trap embers, and they can be combustible themselves.
Most porches and decks are of wooden construction, so there are limited options when addressing their inherent combustibility short of initially constructing or rebuilding them using fire-resistive materials. Where the porch or deck is already a part of one’s home, residents can still take action in terms of general maintenance. This includes keeping decks and porches in good repair, since dried-out, checked and rotted boards will be more prone to ignition. Also ensure that gaps in decking comply with NFPA 1144 (or local codes where appropriate). If the opportunity presents itself, replace the porch or deck, or retrofit it using non-combustible materials such as stone or concrete.
To address the issue of porches and decks trapping embers, residents can do several things. First, they should be sure to do general housekeeping. Limit or remove furniture, flowerpots, and other items often left on decks and porches. Swirling wind currents during a fire can cause embers to get trapped in and around these items, creating an ignition potential. These items also can be combustible themselves, which can pose further risk. For example, foam padding in deck furniture can generate tremendous heat when ignited. If a wildfire is encroaching, keep porches and decks as bare as possible, and be sure to move any furnishings indoors.
Be aware that the construction of the porch or deck can also trap embers. Be sure that openings below these structures are screened in per NFPA 1144 or local codes. Eliminate points of ember accumulation by boxing them in or changing out railings. Bottom line, don't tolerate small corners or nooks and crannies where embers can accumulate.
Finally, lots of people like to store firewood both on and under decks and porches. This is a major hazard for the home and for fire crews. Firewood is dry, has plenty of surface area, and represents a tremendous concentration of potential heat energy if ignited. A firewood stack is also an ideal place for embers to accumulate. So please, please, please don't store firewood on or under porches and decks, and keep it well clear of all structures. At least 30 feet from any structure is what is generally recommended.