Consumer Reports: How to prepare for wildfires


Wildfire season is starting earlier and with greater ferocity in the West this year.

As of May 26, 628,715 acres had burned in 10 states since Jan. 1, an increase of nearly 70 percent over the same period in 2020, says the National Interagency Fire Center.

Anyone who lives in a drought-prone area is vulnerable, and even city-dwellers may need to protect themselves from smoke. Here are a few steps to take to defend your property and health:

• Landscape with fire in mind. For instance, use stone walls and gravel as fire breaks. Consider fire-resistant shrubs such as sumac and cotoneaster and plants like coreopsis and French lavender, says the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

• Rethink building materials. Consider noncombustible siding materials, such as fiber cement, brick veneer and stucco, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety recommends. When reroofing, make sure the shingles are labeled Class A — the highest fire-resistance rating — by UL.

Fire often spreads from home to home via fences and decks, the IBHS says. So if you have a wood or vinyl fence, replace the section next to your house — at least 5 feet — with metal. For decks, opt for a metal-joist substructure.

• Clear away combustibles. Move flammable materials at least 5 feet from your home, decks, and overhangs. Move wood piles at least 30 feet away. Avoid outdoor furniture that can easily catch fire, such as wicker or hardwood seating. Check CalFire’s guide for more on creating a defensible space around your property.

• Keep the yard clean. Regularly remove fallen leaves, dead plants, and pine needles in gutters, under decking, and within 30 feet of your home. Trim tree branches to at least 10 feet from your chimney and other trees, and remove branches over your roof. Use stone or gravel mulches, not organic ones. Keep your grass cut to no higher than 4 inches.

• Have an evacuation plan. Build a go bag. Plan escape routes and set up communication plans in advance. If time permits before evacuating, close and lock windows and doors, and shut off utilities.

• Buy an effective air purifier. The air purifiers that do well in Consumer Reports tests proved in our labs to be good at filtering dust, smoke, and pollen from the air. Multiple studies of room air purifiers show that using HEPA filters results in reductions of 50 percent or higher in particulate matter. In one 2018 study of about 130 households, filtration resulted in about 30 percent reduction in coarse particles, like dust.

• Practice packing and fleeing. “Give yourself 30 minutes to leave,” says David Ofwono, director of First on Compliance, an emergency preparedness consulting company based in California. “Sometimes a wildfire moves so fast, that’s all the time people have.” Have face masks on hand, ideally N95s.

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