Spring cleaning for wildfire safety

As the weather warms up and the days grow longer, it's the perfect time to tackle some spring cleaning around your home. This yearly tradition is not just about tidying up; it's also a good way to prepare for the upcoming wildfire season. By taking a few simple steps, you can help reduce the risks you face.

First, let's start with the exterior of your home. Take a walk around your property, looking for any dead or dry vegetation such as leaves, twigs and branches. These can easily catch fire and spread flames to your home, so it's important to remove them regularly. Use a rake or leaf blower to gather the debris and dispose of it properly. If you have a lawn, make sure to keep the grass trimmed to a height of no more than four inches. If you can't do the work yourself, find a neighbor or work hand to help with this. Not all wood waste needs to be burned in a pile or a burn barrel-many agencies can chip up the wood if it is delivered to them.

Next, take a look at the trees and shrubs around your home. Trim any branches that are hanging over your roof or touching your walls, as these can act as a pathway for flames to reach your home. If you have any dead or dying trees on your property, consider having them removed by a professional. In my experience, a dangerous tree can cost between $100 to $300, depending on the rigging the company has to use to safely fall it. You should also create a defensible space around your home by removing any flammable vegetation within 30 feet of your house.

That does not mean you need to remove all vegetation around your home. There are many plants, including some native to Alaska, that are naturally fire-resistive. Contact a local forester or greenhouse for suggestions, tips and suggestions on a landscaping plan.

Now, let's move on to the interior of your home. One of the most important things you can do to prepare for wildfire season is to make sure your smoke alarms are in good working order. Test them monthly and replace the batteries as needed. Even better, switch them out for alarms that have a built-in 10-year battery so you never have to remember to change the battery or deal with that annoying chirp that you can never locate.

Having a fire extinguisher on hand and knowing how to use it properly are also very good ideas.

Another important step is to declutter your home. Over time, it's easy to accumulate a lot of stuff, but too much can be a fire hazard. Take some time to go through your belongings and get rid of anything you no longer need or use. Not only will this help reduce the risk of fire, but it will also make your home feel more spacious and organized. You can sell it, donate it, or dispose of it, depending on what it is.

Finally, make sure you have an emergency plan in place in case of a wildfire. Know your evacuation routes and have a designated meeting place for your family. Put together an emergency kit with essential items such as water, non-perishable food, a flashlight, and a first aid kit. It's also a good idea to have important documents, such as your insurance policies and medical records, stored in a fire-proof safe or digital backup.

Turn "spring cleaning" into a life-saving time. Prevention is key when it comes to wildfire safety. By taking action now, you can enjoy peace of mind throughout the wildfire season and beyond.

Christian M. Hartley is a 40-year Alaska resident with over 25 years of public safety and public service experience. He is the City of Houston Fire Chief and also serves on many local and state workgroups, boards and commissions related to safety. He lives in Big Lake with his wife of 19 years and their three teenage sons.