Ember Attacks: What, Why, and How to Stay Safe
What is an ember attack?
In a wildfire, the term “ember attack” carries a weight of significance that can’t be overstated. An ember attack occurs when small, burning particles, known as embers, are released into the air during a wildfire. These embers have the potential to ignite new fires as they are carried by the wind, sometimes over considerable distances. Understanding the nature of ember attacks is vital for protecting lives and property in wildfire-prone areas.
Why do we want to understand ember attacks?
The Birth of Embers in Wildfires
Embers don’t simply materialise out of thin air; they have a precise origin within the chaotic landscape of a wildfire. Embers are formed during wildfires through a combination of processes related to the combustion of flammable materials.
Wildfires are large-scale combustion events. They occur when there is an abundant supply of dry and flammable vegetation, such as grass, shrubs, and trees, along with a heat source, often initiated by lightning strikes or human activities like campfires or discarded cigarettes. As the fire advances, it consumes these materials.
This process breaks the organic matter into various compounds, releasing gases, volatile organic compounds, and solid charred particles.
Some solid charred particles generated during the combustion process are small enough to become airborne. These airborne particles are often referred to as “embers” or “firebrands.” They can include tiny bits of charred wood, leaves, and other materials that have been heated to incandescence.
Once these embers are formed, they are carried by the wind away from the main fire. Wind can transport embers over considerable distances, and they can land in new areas, potentially igniting new fires.
Ignition of New Fires
When embers land in a receptive environment, such as dry grass, leaves, or near flammable structures, they can ignite new fires. This is how embers play a critical role in the rapid spread of wildfires. These new fires can merge with the main wildfire or become independent, adding to the complexity of firefighting efforts.
Understanding how embers are formed during wildfires is important for wildfire management and bushfire prevention efforts. It highlights the need for wildfire preparedness and reducing potential ignition sources, especially in fire-prone areas.
Sizing Up Embers: Characteristics and Dimensions
Embers, though seemingly innocuous, are incredibly diverse in size and possess distinct characteristics that have a profound impact on their behaviour and potential danger.
Embers range from minuscule particles barely visible to the naked eye to larger fragments measuring several inches long. This size spectrum is a crucial factor in determining their potential for ignition and the distances they can travel. Smaller embers are more readily carried by wind over long distances, making them a significant threat, especially in windy conditions.
Embers are characterised by their incandescence—glowing due to high temperatures. The intensity of their glow depends on their temperature, which, in turn, is influenced by the materials they originate from and the combustion process. This incandescence makes them easily recognisable and distinguishes them from other particles in the fire plume.
Duration of Ember Life
Impact on Wildfires
Embers are not spontaneously generated during a wildfire; instead, they are produced from specific sources within the fire’s environment.
- Burning vegetation: One of the primary sources of embers during a wildfire is the combustion of vegetation. Dry leaves, grass, and shrubs are readily ignitable, and their burning particles can become embers when propelled into the air. As these lightweight materials are consumed by the fire, they transform into incandescent fragments.
- Structures: Wildfires often encroach upon residential areas and structures, such as houses, barns, and outbuildings. When structures catch fire, they become significant ember sources, generating embers that can be lofted into the sky. Building materials, household items, and flammable debris all contribute to the creation of these fiery particles.
- Trees: Trees within the wildfire’s path can also serve as ember sources. The intense heat and flames can cause the ignition of tree branches, leaves, and other parts. The burning fragments released from these ignited trees become airborne embers that may be carried by the wind to new locations.
- Human Activity: Human activities, such as campfires, discarded cigarettes, or power equipment use, can initiate wildfires. When these fires start, they become ember sources in themselves, ejecting embers into the surroundings. Additionally, such human-caused fires can be especially dangerous, as they often occur in areas close to communities.
- Wildlife and Debris: Wildlife can also inadvertently contribute to ember production during wildfires. For example, fleeing animals can disturb the fire’s progression, causing branches to break and ignite. Furthermore, debris, such as fallen logs or dry plant material, can be consumed by the fire and transformed into embers.
How to keep your home safe during ember attacks
To keep your home safe during ember attacks, it’s essential to take proactive measures that help prevent embers from igniting or infiltrating your property. Here are some steps you can take.
Create a Defensible Space
- Maintain a clear space around your home, free of flammable materials such as dead vegetation, leaves, and woodpiles.
- Trim and prune trees and shrubs to reduce the risk of embers landing in overhanging branches or against your house.
- Keep grass short and well-watered in your defensible space.
- Use ember-resistant plants, rocks, and mulch in your landscaping to reduce the risk of ignition.
- Minimise the use of flammable plants, especially those close to your home.
Roof and Gutter Maintenance
- Install ember-resistant roofing materials such as Class A fire-rated shingles or metal roofing.
- Regularly clean debris from your gutters to prevent embers from igniting accumulated material.
- Install a FireHalo ™. The Fire Halo Bushfire Protection System is an effective solution for preventing fires from spreading through the downpipes of your home’s roof. It allows you to block all the downpipes and fill them and your roof’s gutters with water which can be drawn from your water tank or from town/mains supply. This system can help protect your home from fire damage and ensure the safety of your family and property.
Screen Vents and Openings
- Install ember-resistant mesh screens on vents and openings, including attic vents, soffits, and crawl spaces, to prevent ember intrusion.
Seal Gaps and Cracks
- Seal any gaps or cracks in your home’s exterior, as embers can enter through small openings.
- Pay attention to windows, doors, eaves, and crawl spaces.
- Consider using non-combustible or ember-resistant siding materials to protect your home’s exterior.
Ember-Resistant Building Materials
- Use ember-resistant materials for decks, fences, and other outdoor structures.
Install double-paned or tempered glass windows to reduce the risk of shattering from heat and embers.
Safe Storage Practices
- Keep flammable items such as firewood and propane tanks away from your home.
- Store items like gas cans in a fire-resistant enclosure or at a safe distance.
- Perform routine maintenance on your home, including inspecting and repairing any damaged or worn areas that may be vulnerable to ember intrusion.
- Create fire-resistant zones around your home by using gravel paths or driveways to separate structures and flammable vegetation.
Emergency Water Supply
- Have a readily accessible source of water, such as a garden hose and a water pump, to help extinguish embers or spot fires quickly.
- Stay updated on local fire conditions and evacuation orders. Be prepared to evacuate when necessary.
- Work with your neighbours and local community to establish and maintain a wildfire preparedness plan.
By implementing these measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of ember attacks causing harm to your home. Being proactive and prepared is crucial in wildfire-prone areas to keep your property and loved ones safe.
Ironclad Blue Mountains has partnered with Fire Halo Building Protection Pty Ltd and holds exclusive rights in the Blue Mountains area to offer and install the innovative Fire Halo system.