Flames rush through heavy timber on the west side of the Wood River Valley during the Beaver Creek Fire in August 2013.
Photo by Willy Cook

Fire Smart: Protecting
your home and the planet

Writer Clyde Soles, author of "The Fire Smart Home Handbook: Preparing for and Surviving the Threat of Wildfire," gives tips on making your house "firewise."
Residents of the Wood River Valley are fortunate to be surrounded by spectacular forestland. But last summer's Beaver Creek Fire—which burned more than 110,000 acres of land on the west side of the Wood River Valley—was an unpleasant reminder of the risks that come with the beauty. Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey dodged a bullet last year—and in 2007 during the Castle Rock Fire—but the risk of future wildfires persists.

Fortunately, savvy homeowners can do a lot to protect their property from the threat of wildfire. Even better, they can help the environment in the process. After you have cleared a survivable space around your home, look to improve your odds with a few potential upgrades.

A roof that protects
Despite what you may have heard, homes seldom catch fire from direct contact with flames and it's rare for them to ignite from the intense heat. The real danger comes from the millions of burning embers blown by the wind that can easily travel several miles. The most vulnerable areas on a home should receive the most scrutiny. These are the big ember catchers: roofs, decks and gutters. Focus on these, and do some simple pruning near the house, and you'll greatly increase the odds for surviving the next onslaught.

Cedar-shake shingles top the list of fire hazards because they are great at catching embers, ignite easily and then become a prime source of giant embers. Hailey has already banned them and other communities have considered following suit. If your residence has wood shingles, fire retardant chemical treatments offer temporary protection that may be better than nothing.

Asphalt shingles built upon a fiberglass matt have become the industry standard—however, the quality varies tremendously. The cheap stuff often sold at big box stores doesn't last, is difficult to recycle, and will end up costing more in the long run. A smarter alternative is choosing a higher-grade product, such as CertainTeed Landmark shingles, that comes with a lifetime transferable warranty.

Another option is going with a metal roof. The Tamko MetalWorks shingles are made from steel with about 50 percent recycled content yet resemble wood shake or slate. Not only are they fireproof but they also are Energy Star rated because they reflect solar radiation in the summer.

Decks don't have to be kindling
A redwood deck looks great, at first, and is somewhat "natural." But it has minimal fire resistance and requires a lot of work to maintain. Every few years, the wood must be treated to protect from water and UV light, and all those chemicals end up in the environment. One exception is TimberSIL wood, which is impregnated with non-toxic liquid glass that protects the wood and gives it a Class A fire rating.

A green alternative to standard wood is a deck made from composite materials with a protective cap. The composite is typically 95 percent recycled materials (a mix of sawdust and plastic) and the outer cap prevents staining and UV degradation. These new-generation decks—Fiberon Horizon, TimberTech Evolutions and Trex Transcend—require minimal maintenance, last for decades and most have a Class B fire rating.

Keep an eye on the gutters
While roofing and decks represent the large horizontal space on which embers will land, gutters are where everything collects. Homes with trees nearby are at a high risk of going up in smoke unless the owners are diligent about cleaning the gutters. Since that annual chore ranks about as popular as paying taxes, gutter guards may be a wise investment to prevent debris from accumulating.

Although there are many types of gutter guards, the ones that make the most sense for this area are made of stainless steel micromesh, which is excellent at keeping out pine needles. Brands to consider include Gutter Dome, Gutter Glove, Gutter RX and Leaf Solution.

Looking at the big picture
Start with creating a survivable space within 100 feet of your home. Then look at your next areas of vulnerability: roof, decks and gutters. After the big threats have been addressed, then you can go after the little things like siding, windows and vents.

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