Drought season requires practical preparation to help prevent wildfires from igniting or spreading near your home. Droughts combined with warming temperatures can have devastating effects on an ecosystem, and many of these effects result in an increased potential for large wildfires to ignite.
Some of the impacts that droughts can have on an environment include:
- Decreased streamflows
- Decreased snowpacks
- Dry soils
- Large-scale tree deaths
- Increased evaporative demand
- Increased fuel for fires
All of these impacts can result in wildfires that are difficult and costly to suppress, burn with more severity, and spread more rapidly.
The Relationship between Drought and Fire
Drought can increase the danger of fire when there are plenty of fuels (grasses, forest debris, etc.) drying quickly after a wet spring. However, very prolonged droughts can actually reduce the occurrence of fires because the availability of fuels is reduced due to a lack of precipitation and, thus, growth.
There are several cascading impacts of wildfires and droughts. While fire damage to possessions is obvious, drought impacts agriculture, supplies of drinking water, and the health of animals and humans. Crops can be destroyed, water treatment facilities could shut down, and reservoirs and watersheds can be contaminated by ash and debris.
Reducing the Risk of and Being Prepared for Drought and Fire
Being prepared for drought has much to do with water conservation, both before and during dry times. From repairing plumbing leaks to using mulch in your yard to installing aerators with flow restrictors in faucets, many actions can be taken to preserve this precious resource.
Drought preparedness tips also include:
- Avoid having ornamental water features unless they re-circulate water
- Consider using rainwater collection systems to water gardens and plants
- Install irrigation devices that are water efficient
- Leave lawn clippings in the yard to return nutrients to the soil
- Install a low-volume toilet that uses very little water
- Use energy and water-efficient appliances
- Cover swimming pools to limit evaporation
During a drought, steps should be taken to conserve water to a higher degree. This can include:
- Turning off the water when shaving and brushing teeth
- Only running the dishwasher when it’s full
- Avoid taking baths and take quick showers, instead
- Don’t let the tap run while you wait for the water to cool
- Don’t use outdoor hoses unnecessarily
In extreme drought, choose to forego watering your lawn in favor of saving large shrubs and trees.
Fire Prevention Before and During Droughts
May is National Wildfire Awareness Month, but people must use caution to prevent fires throughout the year. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, nine out of ten wildfires are caused by people.
The Department has a campaign called Team Public Lands that encourages responsible recreation, which can significantly reduce and mitigate the effects of wildfires. Some of the most important tips the campaign offers to prevent fires include:
- Check local and seasonal fire restrictions before you light a bonfire or campfire.
- Always use an existing fire ring for fires when one is available
- Never leave your fire unattended
- Completely extinguish the fire before you leave it
As for fire safety, the campaign also offers the advice that if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.
Additional Fire Prevention Tips for a Drought Season
The U.S. Department of Labor offers additional tips to prevent wildfires below. These tips should be heeded at all times, not just during times when drought conditions are present:
- Pay close attention to the weather
- Avoid activities that involve fire or sparks when it’s hot, windy, and dry
- Build campfires in open locations away from all flammables
- Douse your campfire until it’s cold
- Keep motorized vehicles off areas of dry grass
- Regularly maintain your vehicle and motorized equipment
- Never operate anything that produces sparks near dry vegetation
- Never burn vegetation when it’s restricted or windy
- Always have water nearby when burning
In addition, you can create a defensible space at home, which is the area between your house and the vegetation around it. Plant fire-resistant plants, prune trees above the height of bushes and shrubs, keep grass no higher than four inches tall, and remove anything that could fuel a fire, from dead plants to pinecones, from your yard.
Even after a fire is extinguished, buildings still suffer from extensive water and smoke damage. Even soot can be dangerous. Should a fire occur that affects your home or building, it’s critical to seek professional support for fire damage restoration.