Wildfires are a fact of life living in the Black Hills. They can be frightening and destructive when threatening people and property. Once they start, property owners have few options, however there are many preventive measures homeowners can take to help lower the risk of wildfires before they even start.
Steve Esser of South Dakota Wildland Fire said, "The first steps for fire mitigation don't really cost that much."
Esser said maintaining a tidy property is the first step in protecting homes from wildfires. Making sure leaf-litter and needle-litter are removed from gutters and roofs is a simple way of making homes more fire resistant.
Also, making sure litter like leaves, grass and needles are removed from beneath decks is important. Esser suggested putting lattice around the bottom of decks with wire mesh stapled to the back to prevent litter from accumulating under decks.
Keeping a mowed lawn is also helpful, particularly within 30 feet of structures. Esser added watering the lawn can also aide in fire resistance, "keep it green where you can, when you can."
Flammable plants around the house increase risk. Esser suggested removing plants like juniper from the immediate vicinity of homes and replacing them with more fire resistant plants.
Making sure vent screens on the eves of homes are maintained can also prevent embers from entering a structure's attic.
Moving away from the home. Esser suggested removing flammable trees like juniper, cedar or ponderosa pine withing thirty feet of structures.
Structures like fire pits (along with firewood) and propane tanks should be kept at least 30 feet away from homes.
Flammable materials should be kept away from the house.
Keeping firefighters in mind is also important when thinking about a wildfire resistant property. Esser suggested to keep water hoses hooked up and in sight for potential use by firefighters. Leaving a ladder in plain sight for firefighters is also helpful.
Esser also suggested marking cisterns and drain-fields so that firefighters are aware of their locations. He said, "We have instances were a firetruck will drive over a cistern or drain-field, not know where they're at and fall through."
Access is also important when preparing a defensible space. Making sure roads and long driveways are at least 12 feet wide with flammable debris cleared from the edges is important. Also, firetrucks are large vehicles so having a space allowing for a 45 foot turn radius or space for a three-point turn will allow crews to safely access properties.
Keeping small bridges, culverts and cattle guards maintained and in strategic locations will also aide access. Firetrucks are, at times, too heavy to cross these structures, especially if they are in disrepair.
More expensive fire resistant home modifications include installing non-flammable roofing like metal roofing or asphalt shingles and installing flame resistant siding like stucco, brick, metal or cement board as opposed to wooden siding.
SDWF has funding available for fire mitigation around homes. These grants are cost-share grants where SDWF and property owners split costs 50-50.