The nature of a wildfire is to take out everything that has not adapted to survive. The majority of the homes destroyed and people killed by these fires are located on relatively safe-looking grassy or light-leaf-covered ground. It is a high drought code combined with single-digit relative humidity and strong winds that creates great power, speed and extreme fire behavior. Firefighters can only do so much. At some point, they must think of their own safety. There are just too many homes out there, and most of them are not set up to be defended from wildfires. There must be a true sense of ownership on the part of the land or homeowner to defend against a wildfire.

If you actually want to save your home from being destroyed, or are worried about being blocked by downed trees or fast-changing spot fires on your only escape route, then start planning now. Set your home up with a “universal blueprint for survival.” This is a simple fire-management plan that combines basic firefighting skills with defense skills, then augments a simple, safe and practical land-management scheme to save your life and your home. It is systematic and exactly controllable.

Deflect The Storm

Last summer, Washington State lost over 350 homes to the fast-moving Carlton Complex. The majority of homes were set mostly in grass and light fuels (materials that readily ignite and are rapidly consumed by fire when dry) but had plenty of defensible space (area that is cleared of flammable brush or vegetation) around them. Even though they had a chance, these homes still burned because firefighters assessed there was too much risk to try and extinguish the fire. No one had showed the homeowners how they could have set themselves up to save their own homes.

There is a way to receive firestorms so that they can be manipulated and allowed to pass, doing no harm. This is a different way of managing risk called the “universal blueprint.” If you do not wish to have super-strong firestorms destroy your dwellings and communities, you have to do your part to disrupt the momentum of the fire’s mechanics.

An employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in northwestern Alaska developed this fire-management scheme. As an old smokejumper, he used Bureau of Land Management smokejumpers and U. S. Forest Service smokejumpers as well as Native American crews from the Huslia and Houghs tribes to develop, test and fireproof these methods. This is a survival option, and it is a better option than simply leaving lots of flammable growth around structures and evacuating, allowing either strong flame lengths or embers to destroy the critical sites. It is an option that will work when “whack-a-mole” suppression efforts won’t do much except endanger firefighters.

Save Your Home

There are too many homes out there now and not enough firefighters to protect them. You need to do your part. “Defensible space” is not enough. That only

works on easy fires, and light fuels carry fire to kill people and homes faster. To protect a static position—in this case, your home—the “universal blueprint” must be set up if you live in a high-threat environment where your home is surrounded by naturally congested forest fuels or even just grass.

  • Set your home in treated fuels. Make sure the forest is thinned so there is at least 25 feet of space between the crowns of the trees that are left. This is not 25 feet between trunks of trees, but the crowns of the live tree branches.
  • Separate aerial fuels from ground fuels by pruning all branches or ladder fuels up to 12 feet in height.
  • Surround your home with your first control line.  It must be a 6- to 10-foot-wide flagstone rock, tile or brick paver patio.  It can be concrete, but if cost is a serious matter, dig in the ground about 6 inches deep, cover ground with heavy plastic sheeting and cover over with gravel.  The idea here is to have nothing organic around home.  If you must have trees or shrubs, put them in big planters with drip plates so they can be rolled away from house after black-lining (burning all light fuels between lines).
  • Go out 100 feet from your first control line.  Establish a second circular control line.  This is a meandering, permanent, circular, 2-foot-wide control line. It is best to have three control lines to serve as an indirect barrier between your home and the fire.
  • With circular control lines, the wind is always blowing in the right direction to effectively give you starting places and tie in places to use fire raising tools to lay semi-circular strips of measured flame lengths in front of the control lines. That way, the flames never get powerful enough to cross the lines when the wind is blowing.  The flames are small enough to hit the lines and go out, and they do burn against the wind to slowly reach the circular line behind you.
  • Add a Dragon Wizz Wheel to your fire tool kit ( The wheel shows exactly where to lay your semi-circular lines of fire. When your wind arrow is in harmony with winds onsite, the flame decals on the clear overlay disk of the wheel will show you clearly where to lay the strips of friendly fire.
  • Lay in semi-circular lines of controlled, low-flame-length fire strips to systematically burn off the light fuels between the circular control lines. Getting rid of these flammable threats reduces the risk of firestorms getting out of control on your property.
  • In doing this, you always have perfect control of the fire in any strong wildfire conditions because you control the size of the fuel bites that you allow to lay and grow toward the control lines. The flame lengths generated from the fire you lay out will quickly run out of fuel and die down when they hit the control lines.
  • You can lay more strips of fire behind the black that forms in front of the control lines. The two lines of fire meet each other and form an outer black donut. Just mimic the same procedure between the two inner control lines, and the large black space devoid of fuel will secure and insulate your home from the impending firestorm.
  • The stronger the conditions, the faster this method works. On average with a 1-acre blueprint, 10 or 15 minutes is all you need to fireproof the home. If the firestorm is almost there, you can fire off another strip of fire on the outside of the control line toward the oncoming fire before retreating into the house. And before disaster strikes, get actual experience with fire in hand to give you the real confidence you need to operationally execute the procedure.

Share your universal blueprint with your local fire department and how to use it. Getting them familiar with your property can give you more support in saving your home and potentially reduce or eliminate loss in this new age a super strong, fast-moving wildfires. They might even apply it to how they fight other fires!

We are only in the beginning of understanding fire management. What solutions work for small, easy fires can’t be applied to stronger and faster fires. New skills are needed to be effective and eliminate loss from extreme fire behavior.  The “universal blueprint” saves time and gives fire fighters a safe place to start creating a “safety harbor area” to save lives and property.

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Winter 2016 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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