Wildfire Survival Tips To Keep Your Homestead Safe
by Ron Melchiore
I had another post in mind to submit to you folks but forest fires are a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve recently become aware of the fires burning in various areas particularly in the Southeastern United States. In fact, it finally made the National news tonight. I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail many years ago and I can’t imagine the number of fires or amount of territory now burning through those areas.
As some of you know, we’ve had our share of forest fires out here. They’ve literally had us running for our lives. I can’t think of too many things that demand immediate attention more than walking out the door and seeing a billowing curtain of gray/black smoke rising skyward in the nearby forest.
The following paragraph is an excerpt from my book Off-Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness.
“It was like being in a movie theater, the big screen showing a large-as-life fire burning right in front of us, with black smoke billowing upward and a dense veil of white-gray smoke hugging the ground so thickly that the bright orange flames were visible only when they leaped skyward above the fracas.
A slight diminution in the smoke allowed just enough visibility to see an orange-red glow, much like opening the door to a furnace allows a view of the orange-red coals. And, like the furnace hungrily consuming its fuel, the intensity of the forest fire’s heat incinerated everything in its path. “
I have a full chapter devoted to our fire experiences. I am not a fire expert. Rather I’m a guy who has dealt with at least 4 different fires in our 17 years of wilderness living in northern Canada. Two of those fires have gotten to within 90 feet of our homestead. All totaled those fires burned at least ¾ million acres around us.
Here are some general tips anyone can do to prepare well ahead of time. They are not things to contemplate when the fire is ¼ mile away and working towards you. Have an escape plan having multiple paths of egress. If this road is blocked, where to now? Is there a lake to head to as a last resort? Is the vehicle fueled up? Is it pointed in the right direction?
The last thing you want to be doing is packing in a panic! Consider what items are of greatest importance. Purse/wallet, identification, important documents, medications, backup laptop computer, hard drive or USB with essential financial or other data? What is deemed essential will vary from person to person.
In our case, in spring, since we are only one lightning strike away from disaster, we have a survival bag by the door as well as our survival suits. We have smoke masks and goggles. We pack some food and water in the boat and have the water pump and boat fully fueled and ready to roll. Remember, we have the added factor we are alone out here so we plan accordingly.
Rake all combustibles such as leaves and debris far from buildings. Be aware fires will create their own winds so those leaves you raked to the perimeter will be blown around again. If I had a chipper, tiller or some device to reduce and shred and /or bury leaves, I would use it.
If you are in an evergreen forest, I would consider removing trees near buildings. At the very least, remove all lower branches in nearby trees which act as ladder fuels. (fuels that allow a ground fire to start climbing the trees)
The above are routine things we do every year to be prepared. Since we live on a lake, we have a sprinkler system set up preemptively. Forget trying to put the fire out. That’s not going to happen. All you can do is try to get combustibles away from any structures and take measures to bounce the fire around your property.
When we moved out here, we bought a water pump, fire hoses, garden sprinklers and garden hoses (which serve as sprinkler supply lines). Higher quality sprinklers and supply hoses are available and if I had to do it over again I would opt for those. Our spring ritual is to set up all our equipment long before the first thunder and lightning appear. By doing so, at the first sign of trouble, we’re ready.
The first step is to set up the fire pump on our beach. By means of a quick coupler, a 2.5 inch PVC suction line is connected to the pump and extends about 12 feet out into the lake. On the end of the pipe that is in the water, I have a foot valve which allows water to flow one way to the pump but prevents water from draining back into the lake.
That’s important because you don’t want the water pump to drain of water and thereby lose its prime. The foot valve rests on a rock about 8 inches off the lake bottom so that sand and other debris isn’t sucked into the system.
On the output side of the water pump, there is a threaded coupler which ultimately connects to a standard 1.5-inch fire hose. Several 100-foot sections of hose are connected together to make the run up the hill to the house.
Mounted on a porch post is a manifold which takes the high-pressure water from the pump and redirects it out to smaller feed lines, the garden hoses I mentioned earlier. We have 5 outlets on this manifold which we can control via individual valves.
We can shut off or engage each sprinkler with the turn of a valve. Sprinklers can be mounted singly or in series, so there are some instances where one valve may control two sprinkler heads.
Our manifold also has an adapter and valve that allows us to continue a run of standard firehose out to our homestead’s perimeter to tackle any smoldering areas and hot spots. We have two nozzles that can be attached to the end of this fire hose.
The first is an adjustable spray nozzle capable of spraying water in a short, wide pattern or a jet of water that can shoot out one hundred feet if need be. Our second nozzle has a narrow opening that delivers a high-pressure jet of water capable of pulverizing the ground to reach fire that is smoldering in roots and moss.
Our home and outbuildings are top priority to protect so I head up to the roof of our two-story home and mount a sprinkler on a short pole at each end of the roof. A short hose connects them in series and then the feed line drops from the roof to the nearby manifold. Our house and outbuildings are now protected.
Forgive me for the cuts from the book but time is of the essence and I want to get this information out. The following is another excerpt from my book Off-Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness and has more specific information.
What has saved our home twice?
Sprinklers! Both our own system and those of the provincial fire crews. Part of my spring ritual is to head to the house roof and install two sprinklers, one at each end. I also have full-length trees cut, approximately 20- to 25 feet long, and have a sprinkler head attached to the top of each of those trees.
We pick locations around our house site where we can stand these trees back up, like big flag poles, and either wire each one to another smaller tree or attach a set of tripod legs to the pole, so that it can be free-standing. The higher these “flag poles,” the more coverage and the better the protection.
The Honda water pump with a 1 1⁄2 ” firehose delivers pressurized water from our lake to the input side of a manifold and all the sprinkler feed hoses come off the output of the manifold.
Once a fire gets into the crown of the trees, it’s hard to stop. So how do sprinklers prevent the property from being incinerated?
The basic premise of sprinklers is to bring up the humidity in the protected area as high as possible before a fire arrives. The dome of humidity has a tendency to bounce the fire around it, allowing the fire to bypass the protected areas. They most certainly will not extinguish a wildfire!
For anyone living in fire-prone areas, this concept will work for you as long as you have a reliable water source. A swimming pool, pond, stream, or even household tap gives you a chance at saving your home. At a minimum, a couple of sprinklers, proper water lines, and a water pump are all that is needed for some cheap insurance.”
When we first moved out here to build our homestead, we knew we would eventually have to deal with a forest fire. But we had no idea the scope and intensity a conflagration could possess. During construction, we flew in metal siding and roofing for our home’s exterior. It gives a great deal of fire resistance.
For anybody doing new construction, especially in fire-prone areas, consider metal or masonry exterior. And finally, never underestimate a fire. I have personally seen forest fires run 5 to 10 miles in a day! They will lob embers far in advance of themselves to start new fires. Good luck!
Bio: Ron and his wife currently live 100 miles in the Canadian wilderness on a remote lake. As part of the back to the land movement that originated in the 70’s, they have spent their adult years living the homestead dream. You can follow and contact Ron at https://www.facebook.com/offgridandfree.mypathtothewilderness or http://www.inthewilderness.net/