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What if a wildfire came near my house?


Wildfires and Topography
Topography greatly affects wildfire movement: slope is the most important topographical factor.
Topography greatly affects wildfire movement: slope is the most important topographical factor.
Photo courtesy Bureau of Land Management

Another big influence on wildfire behavior is the lay of the land, or topography. Although it remains virtually unchanged, unlike fuel and weather, topography can either aid or hinder wildfire progression. The most important factor in topography as it relates to wildfire is slope.

Unlike humans, fires usually travel uphill much faster than downhill. The steeper the slope, the faster the fire travels. Fires travel in the direction of the ambient wind, which usually flows uphill. Additionally, the fire is able to preheat the fuel further up the hill because the smoke and heat are rising in that direction. Once the fire has reached the top of a hill, it must struggle to come back down because it is not able to preheat the downhill fuel. So, if you live on a hill you will want to follow the steps listed previously, making sure that your zone covers the downhill side of your property. Furthermore, according to FEMA, you should extend the safety zone beyond the minimum 30 feet. Remember, the idea is to interrupt the fuel source so the fire cannot spread.

Another thing you should do, whether you're in the vicinity of wildfire activity or not, is have an evacuation plan. In the event of a wildfire, this plan should not only include getting out of your house - make sure you have fire ladders for upper floors - but also an escape route with alternates just incase any roads are blocked-off.


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