Off-Grid and Free: The Terror of Forest Fires, Part 2

Reader Contribution by Ron Melchiore
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In last week’s post, Off Grid and Free: The Terror of Forest Fires, Part 1, I portrayed the horror of forest fires both with pictures and a written first-hand account via an excerpt from my book, Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness. We’ve survived multiple fire threats over the last 16 years and I’d like to pass on some information on how we did that.

 When we moved out here, we bought a water pump, fire hoses, garden sprinklers and garden hoses (which serve as sprinkler supply lines). Higher quality sprinklers and supply hoses are available and if I had to do it over again I would opt for those. Our spring ritual is to set up all our equipment long before the first thunder and lightning appear. By doing so, at the first sign of trouble, we’re ready.

The first step is to set up the fire pump on our beach. By means of a quick coupler, a 2.5-inch PVC suction line is connected to the pump and extends about 12 feet out into the lake. On the end of the pipe that is in the water, I have a foot valve which allows water to flow one way to the pump but prevents water from draining back into the lake. That’s important, because you don’t want the water pump to drain of water and thereby lose its prime. The foot valve rests on a rock about 8 inches off the lake bottom so that sand and other debris isn’t sucked into the system.

On the output side of the water pump there is a threaded coupler which ultimately connects to standard 1.5-inch firehose. Several 100-foot sections of hose are connected together to make the run up the hill to the house. Mounted on a porch post is a manifold which takes the high pressure water from the pump and redirects it out to smaller feed lines, the garden hoses I mentioned earlier.

We have 5 outlets on this manifold which we can control via individual valves. We can shut off or engage each sprinkler with the turn of a valve. Sprinklers can be mounted singly or in series, so there are some instances where one valve may control two sprinkler heads.

Our manifold also has an adapter and valve that allows us to continue a run of standard firehose out to our homestead’s perimeter to tackle any smoldering areas and hot spots. We have two nozzles that can be attached to the end of this fire hose.

The first is an adjustable spray nozzle capable of spraying water in a short, wide pattern or a jet of water that can shoot out one hundred feet if need be. Our second nozzle has a narrow opening that delivers a high pressure jet of water capable of pulverizing the ground to reach fire that is smoldering in roots and moss.

Our home and outbuildings are top priority to protect so I head up to the roof of our two story home and mount a sprinkler on a short pole at each end of the roof. A short hose connects them in series and then the feed line drops from the roof to the nearby manifold. Our house and outbuildings are now protected.

I can also protect the perimeter of our homestead by erecting more sprinklers nearby. The following is an excerpt from my book Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness and has more specific information.

What has saved our home twice?

Sprinklers! Both our own system and those of the provincial fire crews. Part of my spring ritual is to head to the house roof and install two sprinklers, one at each end. I also have full-length trees cut, approximately 20- to 25 feet long, and have a sprinkler head attached to the top of each of those trees. We pick locations around our house site where we can stand these trees back up, like big flag poles, and either wire each one to another smaller tree or attach a set of tripod legs to the pole, so that it can be free-standing. The higher these “flag poles,” the more coverage and the better the protection. The Honda water pump with a 1 1⁄2 ” firehose delivers pressurized water from our lake to the input side of a manifold, and all the sprinkler feed hoses come off the output of the manifold.

When our property is being defended from a fire, the ground is criss-crossed with various hoses and water lines. The steady drone of the water pump, and the rhythmic “tick, tick, tick” of the sprinkler heads as they sweep through their circular pattern, offer reassurance, a feeling that maybe, just maybe, this will all end well. Water running off the roof, much like it does during a rain storm, reinforces the notion.

Once a fire gets into the crown of the trees, it’s hard to stop. So how do sprinklers prevent property from being incinerated?

The basic premise of sprinklers is to bring up the humidity in the protected area as high as possible, before a fire arrives. The dome of humidity has a tendency to bounce the fire around it, allowing the fire to bypass the protected areas. They most certainly will not extinguish a wildfire!

For anyone living in fire-prone areas, this concept will work for you as long as you have a reliable water source. A swimming pool, pond, stream, or even household tap gives you a chance at saving your home. At a minimum, a couple of sprinklers, proper water lines, and a water pump are all that are needed for some cheap insurance.

When a fire threatens, we each have our prearranged assigned duties. Johanna runs through the house closing windows and throwing some clothes and documents in a suitcase. My job is to get the fire pump running. One pull is all it takes to get water flowing from the lake up to the sprinklers.

Donning our survival suits, which have been prepositioned next to the door at the start of fire season, is also a priority. Neither one of us is a strong swimmer so with our survival suits on, we can confidently run into the lake if there isn’t time to get to our boat. Taking off in the boat is the ideal plan of escape for us.

For those of us living with the threat of wildfire, it’s not a question of if, but when. It’s only a matter of time before the woods and grasslands burn. Fire is a natural process that allows forests to rejuvenate. We’ve accepted that fact and have adapted by taking some common sense precautions. We make sure all combustible debris (leaves, needles, twigs, dead grass) is raked up from the house perimeter every spring.

Over time, we have removed many of the lower hanging branches from trees in the immediate vicinity. Those branches are called “ladder fuels” since if left in place, they have the potential to provide any ground fire a means of climbing up into the crown of the trees. We’ve encapsulated our home in metal, have sprinklers set up and we have an escape plan should the unexpected show up.

The pump is always fully fueled and the boat is ready to launch at a moments notice. We will never beat a forest fire, but we will survive and we’ve done everything possible to make sure our homestead remains intact. Two big fires got to within 90 feet of the house, but we are proof sprinklers can do the job. We’re still standing proud!

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back again shortly.

Ron Melchiore and his wife Johanna currently live alone 100 miles in the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan. Ron is the author of Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness published by Moon Willow Press and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Connect with Ron at In the Wilderness and on Facebook and Pinterest. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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