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Wildfire safety at family camp

May 24, 2012
The Daily News

With Memorial Day coming up, many area residents will open up the camps and cottages to do yard work in preparation for another season of vacation and recreational use.

This is a good time for property owners to survey their buildings and grounds for ways to make them more wildfire-resistant.

Though this is something that should be done every year, several large storms that passed through northern Michigan this past winter caused more widespread damage than usual to trees in some areas - especially conifers.

In some locations, this has caused a lot of branches, needles and other debris to accumulate on the ground, become lodged in trees or gather on top of the roofs of camps and outbuildings.

All of these situations pose a wildfire risk to personal property

The Michigan State University Firewise program offers homeowners the following landscaping tips on wildfire safety for their cottages.

The goal is to keep the landscape around your camps "lean, green and clean," officials said.

By following these steps, cottage owners can reduce their vulnerability from the threat of wildfire.

- Keep the area around your cottage well-irrigated and free from dry vegetation and debris. Mow the lawn or open space around your cottage regularly, and remove any weeds and other unwanted vegetation that grows up against the walls of the buildings. This will help keep ground fires from spreading toward your camp.

- Prune all trees so that the lowest limbs are 6 to 10 feet from the ground. Be especially alert for any broken branches that are leaning against the ground that can provide a ladder for wildfire flames to climb up into the tree crowns. Wildfires that progress into the crowns of trees create more difficult to control and allow fires to spread more quickly.

- Remove dried leaves, pine needles, broken twigs and other dead vegetation from rooftops and gutters. Pay special attention to valleys created where two sloping sides of a roof come together. These areas are natural concentration points for windblown debris. This practice is critical to keep windblown embers from nearby wildfires starting a new fire or "hotspot" on your property.

- Within 3 to 5 feet of the home, use nonflammable landscaping materials such as rock, pavers, pea stone and other types of gravel, annuals and high-moisture perennial plants. This creates a natural firebreak that can keep flames from reaching the walls of your cottage.

- In the event of a wildfire, access to your property by fire-fighting equipment is critical. Driveways, two-track trails, bridges and culverts leading into private property need to be able to accommodate the height of large fire trucks. Most emergency vehicles require road clearance of 12 feet wide and 15 feet high.

- Keep firewood stacks and propane tanks at least 30 feet from the walls of a building. Obviously, firewood is flammable and should not be stored right up against the side of a building. Liquid fuel from propane tanks is flammable if it escapes (i.e., the pressure valve malfunctions), so creating distance between your cottage and propane tank is a wise practice.

- Maintain a ring of safety around your home to protect it from wildfires. Keep grass mowed within 30-feet of all buildings - a mowed lawn will help protect your home from wildfires. Thin out trees within 30 feet of any building so that their crowns don't touch.

- Make sure your house number is visible from the street, so fire fighters can locate your home quickly. Keep your driveway wide, accessible, and in good condition for fire trucks to get to your home. Plan safe evacuation routes in case of a large wildfire. Have more than one means of getting to your home.

- All burn barrels must be covered with a weighted metal cover, with holes no larger than 3/4 inch - it's the law.

- Consider alternatives to burning - leaves and grass make a fine mulch for gardens, or they can be composted; newspapers and many other every-day household items may be recycled. Recycling and composting eliminates the risk of wildfire and the smoke that comes with burning of trash and yard wastes.

- Always use the ashtray when smoking in your vehicle. Matches tossed from a car window, farm vehicle, or off-road vehicle (ORV) can ignite leaves or grass, causing a wildfire. Never grind a cigarette, cigar, or pipe tobacco out on a stump or log.

- Always store ashes in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid. Do not place them in a paper bag, cardboard box, or plastic bucket. When dumping ashes outdoors, wet them thoroughly with water to be sure all coals are out completely.

- Be careful with matches. Keep all matches and lighters out of sight and reach of children. In only 10 percent of the child-caused fires do children have to work to obtain matches or a lighter.

- Keep all internal combustion engines used outdoors properly tuned. Such engines must also have a properly functioning spark arrestor. Poorly tuned engines without spark arresting mufflers can emit carbon sparks, causing a wildfire.



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