For those with Cabins in the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville or elsewhere in or around Sevier County:
Here we will present to you the basics of fire safety and point you in the right direction to find comprehensive information on the subject. To properly facilitate this goal, Government and fire safety website information has been collected to present to you and is properly cited so you can research the sites for yourself. As of this writing, these websites and their information are considered expert and comprehensive.
Owning a Cabin means owning a structure that is often located in or near wooded areas. It is therefore prudent to take calculated steps to ensure that your investment is as safe as possible from fire hazards. It is also important to note that insurance companies have taken a keen interest in fire protection. We are seeing an increase in insurance companies demanding that proper steps be taken to reduce fire hazards around cabins. For this reason information has been laid out so that you can be an informed Cabin Owner and understand what the insurance companies are asking for when they require the property to be kept “FIREWISE.”
In addressing fire hazards there will be three main areas that we will discuss:
- Inside the structure
- Outside the structure
- Above the structure
Inside the structure
As with any domicile it is important to employ fire safety at all times. This is a list of information taken from a FEMA website:
U.S. Fire Administration www.usfa.fema.gov
It would be wise to post a fire escape plan prominently at the Cabin as well as fire extinguisher locations so that any guests or loved ones can employ them for safety purposes.
For the purposes of this section, consider porch and deck areas to be inside the structure. Often grills are placed on or close to porches or decks as well as firewood, rocking chairs, swings, tables and other flammable materials. it is therefore prudent to be aware, not only of fire safety concerns from the grills or smokers but also of exterior electrical outlets and hot tub circuits which draw large amounts of electricity. It is imperative to note that extreme caution be considered and safety concerns be properly addressed. More than once we have seen evidence of fire damage on a deck from a mishap.
Outside the structure
Whether your particular Cabin is located in a wooded area or not it is important to understand certain criteria that can help protect your investment and life. FIREWISE is a program or rather a system that has been created to educate property owners and assist them in reducing the risk of loss of life or property. The State of Tennessee has compiled information concerning this issue and maintains this website to propagate awareness –
This website gives recommendations and provides plans for creating FIREWISE safety zones around your House or Cabin. Many of the recommendations that the State provides are also located on the website for the National Fire Protection Association.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has trademarked the term FIREWISE USA. This is what their website – http://www.firewise.org has to say about their organization.
About Firewise USA™
Brush, grass and forest fires don’t have to be disasters. NFPA’s Firewise USA program encourages local solutions for safety by involving homeowners in taking individual responsibility for preparing their homes from the risk of wildfire. Firewise is a key component of Fire Adapted Communities – a collaborative approach that connects all those who play a role in wildfire education, planning and action with comprehensive resources to help reduce risk.
To save lives and property from wildfire, NFPA’s Firewise Communities program teaches people how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourages neighbors to work together and take action now to prevent losses. We all have a role to play in protecting ourselves and each other from the risk of wildfire.
Among other things that the organization propagates, their explanation of how to reduce fire danger is expressed in this information that was posted on their website-
The basics of defensible space and the “home ignition zone”
Recommendations from the Firewise USA™ program
“The concept of the home ignition zone was developed by USDA Forest Service fire scientist Jack Cohen in the late 1990s, following some breakthrough experimental research into how homes ignite due to the effects of radiant heat. For more than 15 years, NFPA’s wildfire safety recommendations have been shaped by this fire science and because of it, is able to provide actionable guidance for homeowners to help them prepare homes/home landscapes to resist wildfire.Using the Zone Concept
The primary goal for Firewise landscaping is fuel reduction — limiting the amount of flammable vegetation and materials surrounding the home and increasing the moisture content of remaining vegetation. The home itself and everything around it up to 100 – 200 feet is known as the ‘home ignition zone.’ In areas across the country where the risk of wildfire is high, the home ignition zone extends up to 200 feet beyond the actual home structure. Within this 200 foot area, there are three zones:
Zone 1 encircles the structure and all its attachments (wooden decks, fences, and boardwalks) for at least 30 feet on all sides. Note: the 30-foot number comes from the very minimum distance, on flat ground, that a wood wall can be separated from the radiant heat of large flames without igniting. In this area:
• Plants should be carefully spaced, low-growing and free of resins, oils and waxes that burn easily.
• Mow the lawn regularly. Prune trees up six to ten feet from the ground.
• Space conifer trees 30 feet between crowns. Trim back trees that overhang the house.
• Create a ‘fire-free’ area within five feet of the home, using non-flammable landscaping materials and/or high-moisture-content annuals and perennials.
• Remove dead vegetation from under deck and within 10 feet of house.
• Consider fire-resistant material for patio furniture, swing sets, etc.
• Remove firewood stacks and propane tanks; they should not be located in this zone.
• Water plants, trees and mulch regularly.
• Consider xeriscaping if you are affected by water-use restrictions.
Zone 2 is 30 to 100 feet from the home, and plants in this zone should be low-growing, well irrigated and less flammable. In this area:
• Leave 30 feet between clusters of two to three trees, or 20 feet between individual trees.
• Encourage a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees.
• Create ‘fuel breaks’, like driveways, gravel walkways and lawns.
• Prune trees up six to ten feet from the ground.
Zone 3 is 100 to 200 feet from the home and this area should be thinned, although less space is required than in Zone 2. NOTE: Because of other factors such as topography, the recommended distances to mitigate for radiant heat exposure actually extend between 100 to 200 feet from the home – on a site-specific basis. In this area:
• Remove smaller conifers that are growing between taller trees. Remove heavy accumulation of woody debris.
• Reduce the density of tall trees so canopies are not touching.
Download our Landscaping and Construction Guide which provides a more in-depth look at each zone and the applicable actions steps (within that zone) that homeowners can take to reduce the risk of wildfire damage to their home and property.“
As you can see there is a great deal of information available to assist you in making wise decisions to make your property FIREWISE. As each property has its own unique set of circumstances it
Above the structure
As has already been discussed, keeping a barrier around your Cabin to keep it safe from ground fires is recommended. It should also be noted that fire has the ability to move in the tree canopy as well as on the ground. This is especially the case when fire incidents occur in conjunction with wind. I have personally seen the wind throw embers from a forest fire over half of a mile. This is where the importance of having your FIREWISE USA “defensible space” in place would come in to play. However, it is within your power to remove trees that could fall on your Cabin in a fire or windstorm situation. For this reason, it is suggested that you have an Arborist perform an inspection yearly and maintain the trees properly.
For the record I do not, in most cases, recommend topping trees. Over the years we have seen tree topping weaken many trees which eventually leads to the fall or removal of the tree.