Raging Fires, Rising Concerns

With the return of deadly California wildfires, the devastating effects of fire have been on the forefront of many people’s minds. 2020 has already become the largest wildfire season in California’s recorded history, with over 4 million acres of land burned as of October 4th, and fires still raging. Given that fire is such a hot topic at the moment, let’s take some time to review some of the primary concerns specific to wildfires, broader fire concerns as they relate to living in a manufactured home, and some preparation and safety precautions you can take now and in the future.

Wildfire Concerns

Beyond the obvious safety issues of fires – physical danger, property damage, visibility concerns – fires also pose a public health risk. Particulate matter (tiny particles) in wildfire smoke can contain harmful substances, including those that cause cancer. Because the particles are so small, a fraction of the diameter of human hair, some can enter the lungs and even bloodstream. There is well-documented scientific evidence linking particulates to negative health effects for the heart and lung. Even brief periods of smoke exposure can put you at risk for future disease and aggravate existing conditions.

The amount of smoke and particulates near you can fluctuate on a daily basis, so it is good practice to monitor the Air Quality Index. You can get real time updates online from the U.S. Forest Service Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program or the AirNow Fire and Smoke Map. For a mobile friendly version, check out California’s BreatheWell site. You can also check with your local air district for more information; contact information for California air districts can be found in the list here.

Protecting Yourself from Smoke

– Check air quality
– Close doors and windows
– Run AC on recirculate
– Use a certified air filter
– Avoid vacuuming, frying food, or using gas appliances, which add to indoor pollution
– Wear a mask inside if needed

Fire and Manufactured Housing

An unfortunate fact about living in a manufactured home is that you may be at greater risk if you have a fire. In 1976, the Department of Housing and Urban Development established more restrictive standards for safety and construction. Homes manufactured before 1976 were not required to meet those guidelines and are more likely to have been built with more flammable materials and have fewer exits in the event of a fire. Thankfully, a 2007-2011 study by the National Fire Protection Association found that mobile homes built after 1976 had a rate of fire deaths 57% lower than those built before HUD’s standards.

A scary reality is that fire’s destructive power is incredibly fast. A small flame can morph into a raging fire in minutes, and the nature of manufactured homes may also put them at greater risk for structural damage faster than a site-built home. Fires have been known to fully engulf a mobile home in under 15 minutes. Knowing this, it is extremely important to be prepared in the event of a fire and practice fire safety in your day to day life.

Fire Safety and Preparation

Be Prepared to Evacuate

This is especially important with the current prevalence of wildfires, but knowing what to do before you have to evacuate due to fire can help save you time and help you keep calm. Understand that if you are advised to evacuate, you should do so immediately. Taking time after an evacuation order to pack up your most treasured belongings could cost you your life. Below are some steps you can take to prepare for the possibility of evacuation.

Regularly tune in to your local news and/or radio for the most up-to-date information about the fires near you.

Know your exits. Map out multiple escape routes before you need them. Check that you are able to easily open windows and remove screens. Practice your routes with your family.

Have a Go Kit ready. Prepare a disaster supply kit with necessities for you, other members of your household, and any pets. A helpful list of what to include in your kit can be found here.

Precautions to Take Now

Make sure you have fire insurance for your home. While it is an unpleasant thing to think about, there is always a possibility that you may lose your home and belongings to a fire. It is worth considering insuring your home against fire and for the full replacement value. Keep in mind that it will likely cost more than the original value of your home to replace it, plus the cost of new furniture, appliances, and other belongings.

Install smoke detectors. Have one on every level of your home. Test them monthly. Change the batteries yearly. Change the detectors every 10 years.

Purchase fire extinguishers. Get a fire extinguisher appropriate for your home, as there are different types for different kinds of fire. Learn how to use one properly from your local fire department.

General Safety and Fire Risk Reduction

Avoid overloading outlets or extension cords. Limit the number of appliances and devices plugged into outlets and surge protectors.

Periodically check electrical wiring. Look for exposed or fraying wires. Dark marks on electrical outlets could be an indicator of electrical issues.

Use items like space heaters and candles under supervision and for short periods of time. Be sure to keep them away from flammable items.

Maintain and keep heat sources clean. Dust accumulated on heat strips could ignite when you turn on the heat for the first time in the season.

Proper Maintenance and Preparedness can Prevent Fires in your Mobile Home.

Every year hundreds of mobile homes are destroyed by fires that might have otherwise been prevented. Proper maintenance of heating, cooking and electrical systems is the key to warding off those destructive flames. You must also make sure that your home is properly outfitted to warn you if a fire was to break out and that you have the tools to help prevent the fire from spreading.

  • Fire extinguishers. Keep one fire extinguisher in the kitchen and another near the furnace. Make sure they’re multi-purpose, dry-chemical extinguishers, suitable for class A, B and C fires. Teach all family members how to operate them. Small home fire extinguishers operate for only five to ten seconds, so be sure of your aim.
  • Smoke detectors. Mobile homes built since 1976 come equipped with smoke detectors. If your home doesn’t have smoke detectors, you need one high on the wall or ceiling adjacent to bedroom areas. Place another in the kitchen. Check your smoke detectors once a month by pressing the test button. Replace the battery in each smoke detector at least once a year. Never remove the battery except when replacing it. If your smoke detector is a photo unit, replace the bulbs every three years. Keep the grill of the detector free of dirt by dusting and vacuuming it regularly.

If your home’s smoke detectors are powered by electricity, add at least one detector that’s battery powered in case of power outages.

  • Be careful not to overload electrical circuits. Lights that flicker or dim indicate trouble that must be corrected. When replacing fuses, install only recommended fuses. Use fuses and breakers that are the proper size for the wire. A ground monitor is a valuable tool for locating any shorts or other problems in the electrical system. If you are inexperienced in working with electricity, don’t try to correct electrical problems yourself. Call a qualified electrician.
  • Don’t overextend an electrical outlet with extension cords. Replace frayed or broken electrical cords. Make sure all appliances are properly installed. Buy electrical appliances and equipment approved by a certified testing laboratory. Never run cords under rugs. Keep dust from accumulating on televisions, electrical equipment and appliances.

Note these additional tips

  • Store flammable liquids in approved containers outside the mobile home.
  • Never place combustible material under your mobile home – that includes bales of hay or straw.
  • Check for worn spots on any heat tape that covers water pipes.
  • Keep your yard tidy and free of debris.
  • Keep baking soda near your stove to extinguish grease fires.
  • Keep matches and lighters out of children’s reach, preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • Never use an extension cord on a permanent basis and avoid running them under rugs.
  • Never leave home with the clothes dryer running. Clean dryer vents frequently and clean lint screens after each load to keep the airway clear.
  • Make regular safety checks of your mobile home’s major systems. Check for cleanliness, proper functioning and loose connections.
  • Never block doors or windows with furniture or other large objects.
  • Supplemental heating units like electrical space heaters, fireplaces, kerosene heaters and wood stoves can be dangerous. Be sure each device is approved for use in a home. Turn them off before you leave or go to sleep.