Watching the wildfires happening right now in Southern California is very unsettling. I feel bad for the residents who are losing their homes to fire, some losing everything they own to fires out of control of everyone. My heart goes out to them, and I can only wish that things settle down, giving the firefighters a chance to put an end to the flames and danger.
It makes me think about our cottage fire prevention and how vunerable we cottagers are. Our places are built in or near the woods, trees and brush that can burn, especially on hot dry days of summer. Especially in woods that have a lot of dead trees, blowdowns from storms and the like, that have become nothing more than dry fire tinder, waiting to ignite.
We’ve been lucky around the cottage this year, if you can call loads of rain, ‘lucky’ but that is the kind of summer it has been. Lot’s of rain, which, although kind of depressing, it does reduce the fire hazard.
That’s not to say the old trees wouldn’t burn though, hence my work this past weekend, cutting out all the old dead spruce trees from my little woodlot beside the camp. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that those trees were just waiting for a lightening strike to start burning, and once they start….well….it wouldn’t be pretty.
That’s the forest under my control. But right behind the camp is property I don’t own, that is loaded with fallen trees from Hurricane Juan that hit us several years ago. Those trees are ripe for burning, dry branches everywhere, slowly rotting, but not fast enough. Given enough time, they will rot, and become that wet rotting wood that doesn’t burn easily, but that takes time, lots of it. In the meantime, the risk of fire is high.
For fire prevention, I have a water hose hooked up at the cottage, and I keep it hooked up from spring until fall. It’s long enough to reach around most of the camp, which would allow me to wet down stuff should a fire occur. But…I have to be there when it happens, and…as soon as the fire burns the wires and we lose electricity, I lose my water pump, and it’s game over as far as fighting a fire. Not only that, a garden hose is not exactly the best defense in a house or forest fire. Better than nothing, but usually not adequate for any kind of major fire fighting effort.
Keeping trees and brush away from the cottage helps, but it isn’t foolproof. Anyone who has seen a forest fire or seen the after affects, knows that forest fires routinely jump roads, burning both sides. It wouldn’t take much to reach the roof of the cottage from the trees not 60 feet away.
I keep my boat and lawnmower gas in a separate shed and we have a working fire extinquisher hanging in plain view in the camp kitchen. I never go to bed with a campfire burning, always careful to put lots and lots of water on it, making sure it is completely cold and extinquished before turning in. More than once I have seen a campfire come back to life after dousing it with water.
I also keep the grass cut close, especially anywhere that we park vehicles. Although most have heat shields on the cataytic converters these days, it wasn’t that long ago that farmers fields were burning because of trucks without heat shields. You might know your vehicle still has a shield, but what about someone visiting you?
I also keep oily and or gas soaked rags, turpentine rags etc in a bucket of water outside…not in the camp or shed. In the heat of a shed, on a hot summer day, a gas soaked rag could spontaneously combust, and you would have a fire.
Lately I have been thinking about forest fire protection a good deal. I think my next roof will be one of the new metal roofs that would resist fire, and I am rethinking the siding for the cottage. I had been thinking some kind of log siding, but now I am considering some kind of more fire resistant siding, if not metal or brick, than at least something that has a low flash point.
Seeing the California wildfires makes me think twice when I light a campfire outside, and certainly adds to the concerns I have about every wingnut in cottage country setting off fireworks every weekend….yes I am back on that…c’mon…is it necessary to set off fireworks every weekend?
Anyway…back to fire protection. If you take one thing away from this post, take away the idea that you need to be aware of fire hazards around your cottage and do what you can to minimize the risk. Remember things like patio lanterns that run on naptha, candles you use to deter mosquitos, the affects of sun on metal and glass. I had a good friend who lost his life because of the sun and a fly tyers magnifying glass….he was tying flies for fishing at his camp one afternoon and decided to have a nap. He left the magnifying glass he was using in the window. The afternoon sun caught the glass and caused it to start a fire on the floor, (the way we used to burn bugs as children, remember?) He woke up to his cottage on fire and ran to the lake for water…that’s when he had a heart attack, fell in the lake and drowned….a sad ending….his cottage ended up with a hole in the floor where the fire burned through before it eventually burned out.
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