How to protect your home from wildfires

Mike Vollmer 

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By Amanda Milici, Tahoe Resource Conservation District

Living at Lake Tahoe is special. It means living amongst endless recreation opportunities and living with the peace and serenity created by our shared body of pristine water. However, living at Lake Tahoe also means living with something else: wildfire.

By owning a home in a Wildland Urban Interface (the zone where natural environments intersect human development), Tahoe residents take on the extra responsibility of protecting their homes from wildfire. Although the thought of losing a home is scary and tragic, there is a lot residents can do to increase their home’s wildfire resiliency.

Courtesy Tahoe Resource Conservation District

In January 2021, a team of California and Nevada scientists and practitioners published the Wildfire Home Retrofit Guide. Filled with specific recommendations for each component of the home, the guide empowers residents to address their home’s vulnerabilities.

In the past, we’ve focused a lot on vegetation and defensible space. Of course, good defensible space is absolutely necessary, but we need to remember that our homes themselves are combustible, too.

During a wildfire, 60 to 90 percent of home loss is due to embers. Depending on a fire’s intensity and wind speed, embers can travel more than a mile ahead of a flame front. Thus, even a home blocks away from a fire can be at risk of ignition.

The Wildfire Home Retrofit Guide recommends a coupled approach that considers both the vegetation surrounding a home and the home’s construction materials. It includes recommendations for ember-vulnerable components of a home including roofs, rain gutters, eaves, vents, siding, skylights, windows, decks, chimneys and fences. These recommendations range from routine maintenance (removing pine needles from roofs and gutters), to DIY projects (installing 1/8th-inch metal mesh screening to vents), to full retrofits (replacing a wood-shake roof).

The Wildfire Home Retrofit Guide is beyond informative. It’s empowering. It allows residents to look at their home, see what they can do to protect it, and feel more in control of their wildfire risk.

The Wildfire Home Retrofit Guide is free and can be downloaded at tahoelivingwithfire.com.

The guide was funded by CAL FIRE California Climate Investments. Contributing agencies to the Guide include University of Nevada, Reno Extension; University of California Cooperative Extension; Tahoe Resource Conservation District; Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities; Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team; and Tahoe Living With Fire.