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It’s Embers, Not Flames That Usually Ignite Homes During A Wildfire – Here’s How To Prepare

Firefighters work to contain the Dixie Fire.
Cal Fire
Firefighters work to contain the Dixie Fire.

During a wildfire it’s often not flames or heat that ignites a home, it’s embers. These small pieces of smoldering material can be carried for miles by the wind like a burning snowstorm, acting like matches that spark anything flammable they touch.

Embers cause anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of home ignitions during a wildfire, said Megan Kay, outreach coordinator for the Living with Fire program at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

One simple way to help keep your home safe, she said, is to keep debris from piling up on your home.

“Because debris build-up, whether it’s in a flowerbed or in your gutter or around your skylights, all those things are basically just kindling,” Kay said. “So if an ember were to get in there and ignite like pine needles on top of your roof, then there’s more chance of then your roof becoming compromised and fire actually entering the home.”

Protect your home from embers.
Protect your home from embers.

To help homeowners, Kay said her office has a list of resources of how to protect your home, including an Ember Awareness Checklist, which goes through the most vulnerable ignition points on a home, such as vents and eaves.

“And those are usually around your crawl space where people like to put vegetation.” Kay said. “So if that vegetation right around your house ignites then it’s basically just going to be shooting up embers up into your attack and into your crawlspace.”

Kay recommends choosing vegetation that’s green or fire-resistant, and making sure you’re checking for debris build-up regularly so your home is ready if a wildfire is near.

“This is something that you want to be doing year-round,” Kay said. “If a fire is approaching, then you should be focusing on evacuating.”

Protecting your home and property is important, Kay said, but she emphasized that safeguarding life during an evacuation should be the priority. She added that everyone in a fire prone area should have a “go bag” ready so they can get their family and animals out quickly, as well as the vulnerable people in their community.

Other Living With Fire resources:

Fire preparedness and evacuation resources for those near or evacuated by the Dixie Fire:

Plumas County

You can also contact the Plumas County Fire Safe Council with wildfire preparedness questions.
Phone: 530-927-5294


Butte County

You can also call the Butte County Fire Safe Council with wildfire preparedness questions.
Phone: 530-877-0984


Sarah has worked at North State Public Radio since 2015 and is currently the station’s Director of Operations. She’s responsible for the sound of the station and works to create the richest public radio experience possible for NSPR listeners.