Chief’s Corner: Harden your home, while staying home |

Chief’s Corner: Harden your home, while staying home

Images from the North Tahoe Fire Department annual ceremony in Kings Beach, Ca., on Friday, May 3, 2019.
Cathleen Allison | Nevada Momentum

Hardening your home means protecting it from ember encroachment, and it’s a vital tactic to improve your home’s chances of surviving a wildfire.

We are officially halfway through May, and while the economy is on the cusp of reopening, we are also entering into fire season. We should make use of the time we have self-isolating to make our homes better equipped to withstand a wildfire. Recent studies indicate that most homes lost in wildfires are due to ember intrusion and not from surface fires.

Did you know your roof is the most ember-susceptible part of your home? The best way you can protect this vulnerability is to use materials such as composition, metal or tile. Residents should also ensure there are no spaces between roof decking and coverings. Rain gutters should also be cleared of any leaves or pine needles and kept clean during the fire season. Some gutter installations lend themselves to be covered with non-combustible metal mesh screen with 3/8” to 1/2” openings to prevent debris accumulation. Don’t forget to shut off your heat tape! Each spring your local fire departments respond to structure fires caused by heat tape left “HOT” on roofs and rain gutters filled with pine needles.

You can easily assess your home’s vulnerabilities as you complete your defensible space work. Pay close attention to the areas where pine needles and leaves have accumulated against your home. These are often tight spaces or connection points and they are ripe fuel beds for ember ignition.

Skirting the lower part of exterior walls with fire resistive materials such as rock or metal siding is a cost-efficient way to harden ground connection points. New construction, and most remodels, require use of fire-resistive exterior wall siding such as stucco or fiber cement siding and treated wood. Using these materials from the foundation to the roof further harden your home. There are several fire-retardant exterior treatments and paints on the market; check their UL rating and contact your local Fire Marshal for acceptable use within your community. Install weather stripping around garage doors to prevent embers from blowing inside and store all combustible or flammable liquids away from ignition sources. Keep a shovel, bucket, hose and fire extinguisher nearby for emergencies.

Connection points at decks, fences and other surfaces that intersect your home should be scrutinized for vulnerability. Consider hardening those most susceptible areas with fire-resistive or non-combustible materials or treatments. Like your roof, it is important to keep your decks, connection points and areas underneath your decks clear of combustible materials, including furniture cushions, firewood, combustible construction materials and tree litter.

North Tahoe and Meeks Bay Fire Protection Districts

Vents and windows are also vulnerabilities. Covering vents with 1/16” to 1/8” metal mesh or replacing them with fire-resistant vents provide effective mitigation. Double-paned windows are another effective measure for home hardening, as heat from a wildfire can break windows allowing embers to enter the structure and ignite the home from the inside.

Fire season will come without regard to our pandemic. While we are all optimistic that COVID-19 restrictions will be eased, use your time at home to prepare for wildfire season by completing your defensible space and home hardening activities. This will greatly increase your home’s survival during a wildfire.

These are general recommendations, please check with your local fire agency for specific guidance on your home.

For additional information on how to harden your home, as well as tips to prevent wildfires, visit

Stay safe and healthy. Stronger Together.

Michael Schwartz is chief of the North Tahoe Fire Protection District.

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