Embers 101: Fires Waiting to Happen

Don’t let embers turn into a disaster!

Fireplaces, campfires, and firepits throw off embers, adding a mesmerizing ambiance to an evening. But if you’ve ever had an ember escape your fireplace screen or fly off a campfire onto your skin or clothes, you probably moved faster than you ever thought possible in order to deal with it.

If the embers from a fireplace or small campfire can pack that kind of punch, imagine what the embers from a giant, roaring wildfire can do once they’re on the move.

Embers from an active wildfire can ignite homes up to a mile away. If the winds are right, they’ve been known to travel as far as five miles. And when they land, they come in hot, regardless of whether they’re still glowing. According to statistics, some 90% of homes are lost during a wildfire burn because embers touched down on or near the home.

The concepts of defensible space and home hardening are key to protecting your home from embers.

Defensible Space Inspectors help identify areas to clear on your property to prevent embers from spreading.

Create ember-resistant defensible space.

The first 5 feet around the perimeter of your home—Zone 0—should contain nothing but space and ground covering that can’t burn. A solid layer of decorative stone will look great and render embers helpless should they touch down. And if there’s any combustible fence in your 5-foot perimeter, replace it with material that can’t burn.

The next 5 to 30 feet—Zone 1—should be planted to discourage the spread of flames if any were to ignite, but it should also be kept wet during a fire event so embers will be less likely to ignite your plantings. A University of Minnesota study found homes with a wildfire sprinkler system are far more likely to survive a fire than homes without one.

Move items in Zone 0 to 5 feet or further away from your home.

Harden your home against embers.

There isn’t much you can do to keep embers from touching the outside of your home, so the key here is to lessen the odds of them doing damage. The potential danger posed by embers igniting gutter debris, gathering under your roof, or making their way inside to furniture, carpets, and drapes needs to be mitigated. Here are a few ideas:

  • Roof and Gutters: Keep them free from dead leaves and pine needles.
  • Chimney: Cover with 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch metal screening.
  • Vents: Cover with 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch metal mesh.
  • Eaves/Overhangs: Box them in with fire-retardant or noncombustible materials.

Get more ideas here.

Protect against embers that can approach from outside your house as carefully as you protect against the ones in your fireplace…because every ember represents the potential for a major fire if it finds the right place to land.