Though summer is great for suntans and pool parties, hot, dry weather also ushers in a dramatic upturn in fire dangers. As weeds and vegetation become parched with thirst, they turn into ideal fuel for fires.


A lightning strike, a carelessly tossed cigarette, or an ember from a fire elsewhere may ignite a blaze that can destroy an entire neighborhood.

If you’ve watched a newscast of a fire raging through a neighborhood, you’ve probably noticed that some houses burn to the ground while others are spared. Why is that? In some cases it’s because a fire hydrant is nearby or the wind blows a certain direction, but in others it’s because the standing home’s family prepared properly.

There is no better time than now to make your home fire-safe and to develop a plan of action for your family to follow if a fire does occur. Here are recommendations from fire safety experts:

1 Reduce nature’s fuel.
Without fuel, a fire won’t burn. So look around your house for potential sources of fuel and reduce them. Trees and plants that have a lot of dry foliage are particularly hazardous: Acacia, Cedar, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Juniper, Pampas Grass, and Pine, to name a few. Keep them well pruned and avoid growing them in clusters.

Remove all flammable vegetation within 30 feet of a house or other structure, as well as piles of leaves or grass. In fact, it’s smart to thin or remove flammable vegetation to within 100 feet of structures. With tall trees, prune off branches lower than 6 feet from the ground.

2 Move other fuel sources.
Don’t stack firewood next to your house; stack it at least 30 feet from structures. Also avoid placing lumber piles and other construction materials near your home. Locate fixed butane/propane tanks at least 10 feet away from structures or flammable vegetation.

3 Prepare your house.
When it’s time to make choices about new roofing and siding materials, choose fire-resistant building materials such as asphalt-fiberglass or masonry roofing, particularly if you live in a fire-prone area. Unless properly treated with fire retardant, wood shingles and shakes are a clear invitation to disaster and are outlawed in many communities.

Clean leaves and debris from rain gutters and trim off dead branches that overhang your roof, chimney, and power lines. Be sure your chimney is equipped with a spark arrestor.

Wood decks can also be problematic because they offer a source of fuel with plenty of air circulation, which makes them burn all the better. Be sure to keep dry vegetation and trees trimmed away from decks.

Also beware of where you position a barbecue–don’t put it on a wood deck, beneath a patio overhead, or near flammable vegetation.

4 Prepare your family.
Though the possibility of a fire in or around your home can be a scary thought, developing strategies for your family to follow in the event of a fire emergency isn’t just smart, it’s critical. Fire is one of the most immediately devastating home disasters. Begin by taking these steps:

Escape ladder, stored in second-story room, provides a second escape route.
Escape ladder, stored in second-story room, provides a second escape route.

* Develop an escape plan and practice it with a family drill. Everyone should know how to get out of the house and where to assemble safely outdoors. Establish who will be responsible for small children or the elderly or handicapped.

* Be sure each room has at least two exits that can serve as safe escapes. If one of these is an upper-story window, provide a hook-on fire escape ladder (available at home improvement centers). Be sure that even children know how to attach and climb down these ladders, and keep the ladder in an easily accessible place. (Of course, be sure they are not used unless there is a fire.)

* Check smoke detectors periodically to be sure they’re working properly. Fire departments recommend changing batteries twice a year—when you change your clocks to and from daylight savings time.

* Be sure your house numbers can be easily seen at night from the street.

Safe Electrical Practices
Minimize outlet extenders or plug-in power bars; these can overload an electrical circuit.

* Repair or replace worn, frayed, or broken electrical cords.

* Use only extension cords that match (or have a larger capacity than) the wattage of the appliances that you plug into them.

* Make sure receptacles and appliances are properly grounded.

* Check the maximum size of bulb allowable for lighting fixtures, and don’t exceed the maximum wattage. Be especially careful not to use improperly sized bulbs in recessed light fixtures because of heat buildup.

* Never replace a blown fuse with an improperly sized substitute.


* Keep two fire extinguishers in your home, one in the kitchen area or service porch and one in the garage, located in clear view, near the exit. Fire extinguishers are coded according to the types of fires they can extinguish. An “A-B-C” multipurpose extinguisher puts out all common types of fires. Be sure your extinguishers are large enough to handle home fires.

The minimum size to have on hand is classified “2A10BC” on the label. Periodically check your extinguishers to be sure they are fully charged; this is usually just a matter of looking at a small gauge mounted on the top of the unit.

At least once every five years have your extinguishers serviced by a qualified service person listed in the telephone directory under “Fire Extinguisher Repair.”

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About Don Vandervort
Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years as a remodeler and builder, Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort