Day 1: Clean Your Roof and Rain Gutters!

a simple, 7 day guide to improving your home and family's wildfire preparedness with easy, inexpensive tips.

Day 1: Clean Your Roof and Rain Gutters!

gutter debrisThe single most effective step you can take to protect your home TODAY is to clean all leaves, needles, and debris from your roof, rain gutters, decks, and around bases of walls. The most vulnerable part of your home is typically the roof or other large horizontal surfaces like decks. Fire inspectors find that most homeowners do not properly maintain their roofs, leaving Marin's neighborhoods vulnerable to wildfires when embers may ignite fallen leaves and needles.

Firefighters know that embers are the most important cause of home ignition.  Research shows that two out of three homes destroyed during wildfires are ignited by wind-blown embers, and not from the actual flames of the fire.  These embers can ignite and burn your home in several ways, and can travel as far as a mile from the main fire.   By taking one hour today to clean your roof and gutters, you'll have taken the first, and possibly the most significant step, towards protecting your home.

Roof and Gutter Cleaning Tips

  1. Be safe!
    1. Hire a professional if you are unsure or lack the proper tools.  Some roofing materials can be damaged if you walk on them, and every roof poses a fall hazard.  
    2. Always use a sturdy, well-footed ladder to reach your roof and gutters.
    3. Don't clean your roof alone.  Be sure there is someone with you, on the ground, to help when needed.
  2. Check your roof.  Is it well maintained?  Is the roofing made from a fire resistant (Class "A") material like tile, composite shingles, or tar and gravel?  Does your roof  edge and rain gutters have metal flashing? It can be difficult to tell whether you have a Class “A” fire-rated roof, unless it’s made of an obviously noncombustible material, such as tile.  If you are not sure about your roof, schedule a professional roof inspection to find out.
  3. Pay close attention to areas where horizontal surfaces meet your roof, like at dormers and skylights.
  4. Always keep your roof clean of debris. Clean it as often as necessary during fire season.  Remember: even a small amount of leaves may enough to burn your home!
  5. Check your gutters.  Metal gutters are safest, and all gutters must be maintained completely free of leaves, needles, and vegetation during fire season (and the rainy season too, or course).  Like the rest of your roof, you may need to clean them more often during the summer if you live in an area where leaves are likely to fall onto your roof.


Regardless of the specific Class “A” roofing material that you choose, inspect it regularly, maintain it when necessary, and replace it when needed.

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a Class “A” roof covering:

  • Many roof coverings have a Class “A” rating based only on the top/external part of the roof that you can see. Some common examples include asphalt composition fiberglass shingles, steel, and clay or concrete tiles. Asphalt composition shingles also can use organic fibers instead of fiberglass, which would result in a Class “C” fire rating.
  • Other roof coverings obtain their Class “A” rating because additional materials are used in the roof assembly to enhance fire resistance. The assembly is the underneath part of the roof that you can see. These coverings are considered “Class ‘A’ by assembly.” Examples include aluminum, and some newer composite roofs made from recycled plastic and rubber materials, which require other layers of noncombustible materials to achieve a Class “A” rating. Wood shakes also are now available with pressure-impregnated, exterior-rated, fire-retardant chemicals that provide a Class “B” fire rating, and a “Class ‘A’ by assembly.”
  • It is important to note that most roofing products and assemblies are tested with new materials when they receive their rating. One exception is wood shakes, which are subjected to a natural weathering protocol prior to roof fire testing. One important thing to note is that over time as the products weather, both wood shake and shingle roofs may become more vulnerable to fire.

FIRESafe MARIN has extensive resources online to help you choose and maintain a fire resistant roof.  Learn more!

Day 2: Cut Your Grass!

A simple, 7 day guide to improving your home and family's wildfire preparedness with easy, inexpensive tips.

Day 2: Cut Your Grass!

grass fireMarin's grasslands provide the fuel for our most frequent and fast moving wildfires.  Dry grass is particularly susceptible to ignition -  carelessly dropped cigarettes, illegal fireworks, mower blades, and hot car mufflers frequently ignite grass fires.  These fast-moving fires damage and destroy homes every year in California and Marin, often in the first few minutes of a wildfire before firefighters arrive.

Marin's wet winter is helping grow a record crop of grass.  The grass around your home may be green today, but will dry quickly in the spring sun and winds.  Now is the time to cut, and be prepared to cut again in mid-late June.  

 Every homeowner is responsible for maintaining vegetation on their property, and cutting dry grass, like cleaning your roof and gutters, is one of the fastest and most effective ways to protect your home and family.


Take an hour today to cut the grass on your property.  This easy and inexpensive step may save your home!  

Battery Powered String Trimmers are lightweight and effective.

  1. Start closest to your home, and work outward.
  2. Cut grass to 3" or less, 30'-100' from all structures, decks, and outbuildings.
  3. Add additional defensible space on the downhill side if you live on a slope.  Even a slight slope will greatly increase the heat and speed of a wildfire.
  4. Rake up trimmings and dispose of them in your green waste can.
  5. Cut dry grass in the morning when it's cool and moist.
  6. Do not cut grass or operate outdoor power tools on hot, dry, or "red flag" days.
  7. Sparks from some power tools can cause fires.  String trimmers are safer than mowers, and newer battery powered models are effective, quiet, lightweight, quiet, and are less likely to cause sparks that start fires.
  8. Be prepared to cut again within a few weeks if regrowth occurs.

Grass fires are deceptively dangerous, with flames that can explode from inches to tens of feet from a brief gust of wind, these fast moving fires kill more firefighters each year than any other type of fire.  

If you see a grass fire:

  • Call 911 and report the fire's location.
  • Never approach a fire to observe or photograph.  
  • Stay on pavement and away from unburned grass or vegetation.
  • Quickly move downhill, away from the fire.
  • Watch out for firefighters, fire engines, and fire equipment.
  • Keep your drone grounded!  Even a single hobby drone in the air will ground all firefighting aircraft, placing lives and property at risk and possibly making you liable for injuries and damage.

Did you complete Day 1: Clean Your Roof and Gutters?

Day 3: Maintain "Zone Zero"

A simple, 7 day guide to improving your home and family's wildfire preparedness with easy, inexpensive tips.

Day 3: Maintain "Zone Zero" Within 5' of Your Home

The area nearest your house, from 0' to 5', including the surfaces of the structure itself, is the most vulnerable area.  We call this "ZONE ZERO," because it's ground-zero when it comes to protecting your home from embers. It's the area closest to your house, including plants, decks, outdoor furniture, and the outside walls and coverings.  This area is most vulnerable and should be more aggressively maintained for fire resistance. There should be ZERO combustibles in this zone! 

  • Remove combustible outdoor furniture.  Replace with metal or non-combustible varieties.
  • Replace jute or natural fiber doormats with heavy rubber or metal grates.
  • Remove or relocate all combustible materials including garbage and recycling containers, lumber, trash, and patio accessories.
  • Clean all fallen leaves and needles.
  • No vegetation or plantings are recommended within 5’ of any structure.
  • Remove tree limbs that extend into this zone.  Fire-prone tree varieties should be removed if they extend into this zone.
  • Do not store firewood, lumber, or combustibles here, even (especially) under decks or overhangs.  Move stored combustibles inside or at least 30’ from any structure.
  • Use only inorganic, non-combustible mulches such as stone or gravel.
  • Hardscaping is strongly recommended around the base of structures.

Hardening Structures Against Wildfire

During a wildfire, tiny burning embers can fly far ahead of the fire, sometimes igniting homes a mile or more away from the fire itself.  A wildfire-safe home must be resistant to ignition from these flying embers, so that even if the flames do not reach your home, it will be able to withstand exposure to embers that may have been blown a mile or more in front of a wildfire. To provide maximum wildfire protection for your home, a combination of near-home vegetation management, appropriate building materials, and related design features must be used.

Learn more about fire resistant construction practices and materials here...

Day 4: Choose Fire Smart Landscaping

A simple, 7 day guide to improving your home and family's wildfire preparedness with easy, inexpensive tips.

Day 4: Choose Fire Smart Landscaping to create Defensible Space

Defensible space is essential to improve your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire.  It’s the buffer you create between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surround it.  This space is needed to slow or stop the spread of wildfire and it protects your home from catching fire – either from direct flame contact or radiant heat.  Defensible space is also important for the protection of the firefighters defending your home, and it's required by law!

Creating an area of defensible space does not mean you need a ring of bare dirt around your home.  It does not mean you need to remove all of the trees on your property.  It does, however require some planning and upkeep.  With proper planning, you can have both a beautiful drought resistant, low water landscape and a fire safe home.

The defensible space concept is simple: that trees should be limbed up, spaced out, and kept further from your house; shrubs can be closer, but should be kept low and spaced; bedding plants and lawns may be nearest the house.  The use of "hardscaping" like retaining walls, pathways, and clean space near the home will beautify your property and add the finishing touch on a well planned defensible space.

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FIRESafe MARIN   |   P.O. Box 2831  |   San Anselmo, CA 94979   |   info@firesafemarin.org

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