6 small steps you can take that could save your house from a wildfire


Laguna Beach resident Keith Greer is ready for a wildfire. Special sensors outside his home have been designed to spot an approaching blaze. Devices that look like mounted rifles can then shoot water, he said, “all the way to the other side of the canyon.”

The $40,000 firefighting system came with the house in Arch Beach Heights when Greer bought it in 2009, he said. But fire officials, worried that homeowners could quickly deplete a local reservoir with guns that blast out hundreds of gallons of water a minute, have decided it would unwise to let people all over town devise similar setups.

A few others residents are permitted to shoot a fire retardant out of their so-called rain guns, said Laguna Beach Fire Chief Jeff LaTendresse. Mostly, though, staving off the potential destruction of a wildfire requires that homeowners employ a combination of strategies, large and small.

Many people by now know about the big ones, such as clearing combustibles and vegetation around a home and creating a “defensible space.” Newer homes and communities and significant remodels in hazardous areas must comply with a state building code that took effect in 2008 and is aimed at mitigating wildfire threats.

But firefighting officials say that, in plenty of other cases, homeowners do not pay enough attention to relatively small changes that can make a big difference, especially with older houses.

Steve Quarles is a senior scientist at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. The nonprofit agency, funded mostly by insurance companies, looks to reduce property damage and severe losses caused by weather, including wildfires. With California bracing for its worst-ever fire season, according to Gov. Jerry Brown, Quarles ticks off six fixes you can start making around the house today.

Scrutinize siding

Walk around outside your home and look for places where the siding is close to the ground or touches it. Flying embers can accumulate at the base of that wall and ignite it, even if you went to the effort of creating a noncombustible zone around the house.

Building codes often advocate exposing the concrete foundation, with six inches between the ground and siding, Quarles said.

“Get a contractor to make sure you have some clearance between the ground and the start of the siding,” he said. “In the scheme of things, it’s not going to be a huge cost. It’s not like replacing the siding everywhere.”

Examine vents

A house could easily have a dozen vents, especially if there is an attic and crawl space. All can become entry points for burning embers. Dryer vents also are vulnerable. Make sure the mesh screening is in good condition and not rusted. Smaller, eighth-of-an-inch openings a