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Is Your Home Firewise?

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May 31, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Is your home Firewise? Hello, I'm Amy Myers and welcome to Farm and Family. Today, we're speaking with Dr. John Kushla, Mississippi State University Extension Forestry Specialist. John, Firewise landscaping is really important, especially in the drier months. What is meant by Firewise landscaping?

John Kushla: Amy, the Mississippi Firewise Program strives to improve fire protection through better construction and design, emergency response access and training, and then, finally the landscaping techniques to reduce the threat from wildfires, because landscaping around your home can reduce the threat from wildfire, especially in our rural communities.

Amy Myers: Why is Firewise landscaping so important?

John Kushla: Firewise landscaping is particularly important given the many rural communities we have in Mississippi. Fire was a natural and frequent element in Mississippi forests due to the frequency of electrical storms and dry summers. The intermingling of homes and structures in our forested environment, called the Urban Wildland Interface, creates unique challenges for firefighters, because firefighting techniques and equipment different between structural fires and wildland fires.

Amy Myers: What are some aspects of Firewise landscaping?

John Kushla: The first rule in Firewise landscaping is to maintain defensible space. Simply put, homeowners should keep highly flammable vegetation and materials away from the house. Avoid planting trees and shrubs with resinous or waxy leaves within 30 feet of your home. These would include conifers, like juniper or yaupon holly, palmetto and azaleas. Use fire resistant mulches, like stones or brick chips or cocoa shells, and prevent fires spread through fuels, both horizontally and vertically, and this means keeping your lawn mowed. Carefully space planted trees and shrubs to lower the continuity of fuel around your house.

Amy Myers: What else can homeowners do to reduce the threat from wildfire?

John Kushla: Mow your lawn regularly, keeping grass short. Less than four inches in height. Prune tree limbs seven to 10 feet above the ground to remove what we call ladder fuels, breaking the vertical continuity of fuel with the ground. Especially remove dead or overhanging branches, and provide 14-foot clearance along driveways for emergency vehicles. Keep vegetation away from the chimney. Prune branches back at least 15 feet and make sure the chimney has a functioning spark arrestor. Keep the chimney in good repair. Have it cleaned, regularly. Clean fallen leaves and branches off the roof and out of the gutters. Keep the LP gas tank or firewood piles away from the house, at least 30 feet, and clear flammable vegetation at least 10 feet from the tank or woodpile. Keep vegetation from growing into power lines, but do not prune them yourself. Call the utility company to do that. Clearly mark your address on the mailbox, curb and house using reflective paint. And of course have working smoke detectors in your house and practice an escape plan for an emergency.

Amy Myers: So John, particularly for houses that have not been well cared for or are even abandoned, what can happen if dry vegetation, branches and leaves fall on top of the house?

John Kushla: Accumulated vegetation, that vegetation on top of the house can get to a point where you might actually experience what's called spontaneous combustion and the breakdown of those materials develop enough heat internally within the pile of vegetation that it'll actually start a flame, and of course once a fire starts, it can burn through the roof and into the house.

Amy Myers: Where can folks learn more about Firewise?

John Kushla: To request a Firewise program, contact your local service forester with the Mississippi Forestry Commission or Mr. Don Bales of the Extension Service. His number is (601) 794-0671. They can provide additional information on all aspects of Firewise landscaping, disaster preparedness, and even do an onsite inspection. And to report a fire emergency, call 911 and stay on the line to answer dispatcher questions.

Amy Myers: Today, we've been speaking with Dr. John Kushla, forestry specialist. I'm Amy Myers and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Forestry

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