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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Tracy Evans, left, owner of Western Big City Companies, and salesman Mark Altop hug as their business is evacuated due to a brush fire near Redwood Road and 1000 south in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 3, 2012.

Could your home be next?

After devastating wildfires blazed through residential areas in Alpine, Herriman and Eagle Mountain recently, Utahns are on edge — especially those who live in fire-prone areas along the state’s extensive wildland/urban interface. That’s the boundary between forested wildland and developed areas where fast-moving blazes can easily invade, leaping from forested or brush areas into suburban neighborhoods.

In light of that, perhaps Utahns should take notice of recent discoveries by fire investigators: There are incidental fire sources in and around your home that make it vulnerable to drifting embers. The greatest risk to a home are the embers from nearby blazes, drifting on the updrafts created in wildland fires, that find easily ignitable places in and around the structure.

According to those knowledgeable in fire prevention, a home is the most flammable thing in the forest or on open range. It burns far more readily than the brush or trees around it.

In times past, fire officials counseled homeowners to have a defensible clearance of 100 feet around their dwellings and outbuildings to make them fire safe.

But now it seems that is not enough … not anymore. If you want your home to be truly safe from a forest fire or wildfire, you must look much closer than 100 feet.

The greater danger is created in those easily ignitable materials typically found around area homes. A hefty defensible zone is no insurance at all if small ignition sources adjacent to your home or other structures are ignored.

Statistics from California fire investigations show that fully one third of those who have created a defensible zone around their homes still have a 100 percent probability that their house is going to burn in an ember event due to such easily ignitable fine fuels.

Those often overlooked sources can be lethal. A few embers in the right ignition source next to or near your home such as a woodpile, a stack of used lumber, a pile of dry leaves, weeds or pine needles, and your home goes up in flames.

Such small amounts of fine fuels, described as “ember ignitable,” can sustain a small flame for a few minutes — long enough to ignite larger materials that would otherwise only scorch but not burn. Such small fires provide the two necessary elements to subsequently ignite the larger structure: sufficient heat over a period of time.

These are the so called “sweet spots” — clumps of easily ignitable materials that can, in turn, ignite the main structure itself.

In that case, the home will not be directly destroyed by the firestorm but by embers landing on easily ignitable material in and around the home. More likely, the burning house is then going to start other fires, igniting and burning other things within the 100-foot clearance because the requirements for ignition are favorable to excellent.

To better ensure that your home is safe, you should conduct a home ignition zone risk assessment, a walk-around check of your home and other structures to spot ignition sources. Such careful and thoughtful inspections can greatly reduce the chance that a wildfire will cause your home to burn as well.

Consider all possibilities. For example, even if your roof is made of nonflammable material, a single ember penetrating an unscreened roof vent, for example, can find enough fine fuel in the attic’s insulation to subsequently start the framing in a home’s ceiling on fire.

In fact, fire investigators have learned that in a suburban setting, homes are more typically the ignition sources than the nearby trees or wildland brush, spreading lethal embers to still more structures nearby. Many other dwellings thus destroyed might have otherwise survived the holocaust.

In many California wildfires that ravaged suburban areas such as the Oakland fire or the more recent Angora Fire near Lake Tahoe that destroyed hundreds of homes and neighborhoods, the trees were left standing while nearby structures were leveled. Investigators noticed many charred house pads with intact trees surrounding the perimeter. Those nearby trees suffered only some scorching from the holocaust that consumed the adjacent homes.

They determined that direct ignition was not the culprit in most cases, as was once thought. It was the houses that were the ignition sources, investigators discovered, more so than the trees.

Anthony Larson is a journalist, author, lecturer and composer. His research into ancient history and LDS history has given him a perspective on world religions, our modern society and the Restoration. Visit his website at www.mormonprophecy.com.