Fire officials: Defensible space in the event of a fire may save your home

Local News

LEHI, Utah (ABC4 News) – The Traverse Mountain Fire burned about 500 acres, coming close to several homes in Lehi. It’s now out, and fire officials say it’s important to have defensible space on and around your property, no matter where a person lives in Utah.

“We’re getting fires burning right up into people’s yards, and that’s concerning,” said Matthew McFarland, a spokesperson with Unified Fire Authority.

“As a homeowner, or just someone who lives here in Utah, it’s really crucial that you’re doing your part, and you’re prepping your property,” said Kait Webb, a prevention and fire communications coordinator with the Department of Natural Resources.

High winds and dry vegetation create very active fire behavior – as it did with the Traverse Mountain Fire, Webb said.

The wildfire threatened homes in the area, and McFarland and Webb encourage homeowners throughout the state to keep defensible space around their property.

“You want 30-feet clear of any kind of fuels,” McFarland said. “Ideally, that means oak, brushes, anything that’s flammable. Now, you can have some landscaping and stuff.”

“It could be as simple as clearing out your gutters, it could be as simple as trimming up the limbs on the trees, removing flammable vegetation or material away from the side of your house, or under your deck,” Webb said.

McFarland said a person should also make sure there’s no thick brush or undergrowth around the home.

“And the next 30-feet out from there, you want to make sure it’s highly manicured,” McFarland said, as he notes it’s to prevent ground fuels from spreading if a fire comes through.

When a wildfire burns, Webb and McFarland said embers are most dangerous to homes in the area.

“It’s not a flaming front moving in. And those embers, they can blow up to a mile away from the fire,” Webb said. “So, it’s important to think about where could an ember land on my property that might ignite a wildfire.”

“If you have shake shingles, which are really pretty popular – they’re one of the highest risk building techniques. Shake shingles are known for starting home fires when embers are flying in the air,” McFarland said.

With hot and dry temperatures expected throughout summer months, Webb reminds Utahns to make sure homes have enough defensible space in the event of a fire.

“Defensible space helps us out a ton,” Webb said. “As first responders when we’re going into an area, it makes it much safer to defend your home, and it also makes it much more likely that your home will survive a wildfire if it moves through that area.”

As new communities like Lehi, Eagle Mountain, Saratoga Springs and Herriman, are growing into the wildland urban interface, McFarland said more fires are burning right up to people’s yards, noting the concern, but hoping to educate Utahns about the process when firefighters respond to a wildfire.

“We conduct what’s called a structural triage,” McFarland said. “So, when we have a large-scale fire – or even a smaller scale fire – that’s threatening multiple structures, your fire resources are going to come in, assess how many structures are threatened and they’re going to begin their defensive operations, based on what’s most defensible.”

With limited resources, McFarland said crews will work to clear an area of a home if they believe they can save it with one fire crew in a short time frame. But if it will take multiple crews and a long time to make a home defensible against an incoming fire, McFarland said it could be one they “write off earlier.”

“It behooves the homeowner to do that work ahead of time because it makes it easier when we get there, and it puts us in a less dangerous situation as firefighters,” McFarland said.

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