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Archive for January, 2008

Learning from California: 34 DIY Tips, Tools and Techniques to Fireproof your Home

The recent fires in California devastated 38,000 acres and destroyed 63 structures, many of them homes. Although some fires can’t be stopped, there are things you can do to help mitigate the risk in your own home. Check out these guides, tools, and tips designed to help you fight fire at home.


These resources will take you step by step through things you can do to protect your home and other property.

  1. How to Make Fireproof Paper: Protect your important documents from fire by creating the mixture described in this guide.
  2. How to Fireproof Your Barn: This guide is geared toward horse barns, but the advice is applicable for nearly any structure.
  3. How to Prevent Kitchen Fires: Follow these tips to help reduce your risk of a fire in the kitchen.
  4. Firewise Landscaping and Construction Checklist: Check out these guides from Firewise to make sure your landscape and construction isn’t setting you up for a fire hazard.
  5. Interactive Fireproof Guide: This interactive map from CBS offers tips for fireproofing many areas of your home.
  6. How to Fireproof a Christmas Tree: Learn about two different ways to fireproof a Christmas tree in this resource.
  7. How to Minimize Fire Hazards Caused By Smoking: Follow tips like avoiding smoking inside, or even in bed to help prevent a fire in your home.
  8. Upgrading a Dryer Vent: The vent ducting that comes with most dryers isn’t always perfectly safe. Upgrade with a better, safer solution to prevent fires.
  9. How to Fireproof Data: This amateur photographer fireproofs his photo data using a safe and backups.
  10. How to Fireproof Your Home the Easy Way: This guide offers tips for smoke detectors, electricity, heating, and more.
  11. FireSmart: Protecting Your Community From Wildfire: This free guide from Partners in Protection outlines a number of things you can do to stay fire safe.
  12. How to Check for Electrical Fire Hazards: Make sure your electricity is up to snuff with this guide.
  13. Fire Proof Paints: If you’re painting your home, consider using one of these types of flame resistant paints.
  14. Fireproof Your Landscape: Did you know that some trees and plants are less flammable than others? Check out this guide to find out what you can use in your landscaping to help cut down on fire risk.
  15. Winter Survival Guide: Fireproof Your Home: Stay safe in the wintertime by using the tips in this guide.

Actions You Can Take

Follow these tips for little things you can do to help keep fire at bay.

  1. Remove debris: Whether it’s on your deck, porch, or overhang, debris in exposed space can be ignited easily. Make sure you’re clear of leaves, combustible materials, and storage to protect yourself. Additionally, you should wrap these areas with a mesh screen or enclose them with non-combustible materials like brick or metal. For porches, you should use non-combustible furniture and materials.
  2. Use safety glass: For windows and sliding glass doors, you should use safety glass that doesn’t allow radiated heat to pass through. Additionally, consider fire resistant shutters, drapes, and awnings.
  3. Install spark arrestors: Your chimney can let embers escape through the top, igniting your roof. By installing a spark arrestor, you’ll keep embers down with the fire. Make sure to follow specifications from your local fire department.
  4. Cover house vents: Exposed vents and other openings leave your home open to embers. If you cover them with 1/4 inch or smaller corrosion-resistant wire mesh, you’ll greatly reduce the risk of fire happening this way.
  5. Use a detached garage or park outside: Many house fires start as vehicle fires, and garages are often full of flammable materials like propane and gasoline. Keep your house separate from your garage, or if you currently have an attached garage, consider parking outside and moving flammable materials to a detached shed.
  6. Use electricity wisely: Minimize your use of extension cords and power bars, and always make sure your outlets aren’t overloaded. You should also be sure to replace fuses properly.
  7. Fireproof your fence: Build your fence on noncombustible materials like metal or masonry to avoid fire. Or, you can create a firestop between the house and the fence of the same material.
  8. Move propane tanks: One way to reduce fire risk is to keep fuel sources away from your home. This means moving combustibles like propane tanks 10-30 feet away from your home.
  9. Use fire-resistant siding: When building or remodeling your home, use fire resistant siding to lessen your fire risk. Materials include stucco, brick, cement shingles, rock, and more. You can also temporarily treat wood with fire-retardant chemicals.
  10. Check heating appliances: Make sure heating appliances like your furnace, dryer, stove, and grill are all up to safety standards.
  11. Keep firestarters away from kids: You’ve certainly heard this one before, but it’s important. Don’t let kids play with matches, lighters and other fire starters.
  12. Rethink wood decks: Replace wood decks with noncombustible materials like stone or concrete.
  13. Sleep with your bedroom door closed: Closed doors block out heat, smoke, and fire gasses, offering you extra time to escape.
  14. Use fire-resistant roofing materials: Flammable roofing materials include wood, shingle, and shake. Instead, use fiberglass shingles, metal, clay, concrete, and other fire-resistant roofing materials.
  15. Use a protective fire screen on your fireplace: Keep embers from escaping from your fireplace by installing a protective screen that keeps them in.

Tools You Can Use

These items are useful tools for fire safety and prevention.

  1. Fire extinguisher: Keep a fire extinguisher available on every floor of your house, and be sure to let everyone know where they are. Check it for leaks on a monthly basis.
  2. Get a fire escape ladder: Again, this one’s a lifesaver. Buy a ladder to store under your bed or in a closet upstairs so that you can escape from whatever floor you’re on.
  3. Install a smoke alarm: Although this device won’t keep your house from catching fire, it just might save your life. AskMen reports that only 20% of deaths by fire happened in homes with smoke alarms. You should install at least one smoke detector per floor, preferably near your bedroom.
  4. Use a fireproof safe: With a fireproof safe, you can protect your valuables as well as important documents from burning.

Top 10 Strangest Natural Disasters in Human History

While natural disasters seem to get more press coverage nowadays, they’re are nothing new. Natural disasters have influenced the course of history throughout the ages, causing famine, loss of life, and in extreme cases, the destruction of entire civilizations. While they are, thankfully, strange occurrences by design, there are times when mother nature simply outdoes even herself and creates something truly bizarre. Whether they defy explanation or simply leave us in awe at the sheer force they employ, here are 10 of the strangest natural disasters on record.

  1. Lake Nyos, Cameroon, 1986: Doctors and scientists were puzzled when in August of 1986 almost 1,800 people were found dead, as well as scores of cattle and wild animals, seemingly overnight. Their bodies showed no outward signs of trauma, disease, or poisons that could have caused such widespread and immediate loss of life. With help from scientists from all over the world, it was determined that a local lake was the most likely cause of the disaster and Lake Nyos, formed in the crater of an extinct volcano, was tested. Results showed that the CO2 levels in the lake were off the charts as the volcanic chamber which had once released magma to the surface of the earth was still releasing potentially poisonous gases into the lake. The gases pooled due to the unusual stillness of Lake Nyos and when enough accumulated, the gas rose to the surface in bubbles releasing the sometimes deadly gas into the air. Heavier than the surrounding air, carbon dioxide easily suffocated those unlucky enough to be sleeping during the event. Lakes that behave in this way are incredibly rare, and scientists are working on ways to keep this deadly and silent natural disaster from happening again.
  2. The Tunguska Blast, Russia, 1908: In the early morning hours of June of 1908, an explosion rocked the Siberian wilderness, burning and leveling thousands of miles of forest. Yet despite the intensity of the blast, estimated at 1,000 times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, there was no evidence of what caused it. Scientists suspected a comet or asteroid entering the atmosphere was to blame, but there was no impact crater and no fragments of the object were ever recovered, making it difficult to definitively prove their theories. In fact, it wasn’t until late 2001 that scientists were finally able to put this explosive mystery to rest. A team of Italian scientists using seismic records, public literature, and eye-witness accounts were able to determine a possible orbit for the object that exploded, leading them to believe that it was more than likely a low-density asteroid which would have exploded in the atmosphere, never reaching the ground but sending a deadly shock wave instead.
  3. The Year Without a Summer, Europe, America and Canada, 1816: In these days of global warming and heat waves it may be hard to imagine a summer where snow is still falling in June, but for those living in the northeastern United States, Canada and Europe in 1816, it was a reality. Problems began in early May when a frost killed numerous crops causing food shortages that would come back to bite the frozen countryside, especially in Europe where famine and food riots were common. Two large blizzards blanketed Canada and New England in June, leading to great loss of life, and ice and cold weather persisted through July and August, though temperatures often alternated between cold and hot even within the same day. This freak cold wave was due largely in part to a volcanic eruption that had occurred in the previous year, causing what is known as a volcanic winter. So be careful what you wish for the next time you want your hot summer days to cool off.
  4. Krakatoa Eruption, Indonesia, 1883: Krakatoa is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and in 1883 it erupted in one of the most violent volcanic events in recorded history, killing tens of thousands with ash, lava, and large tsunamis. Volcanoes erupt all the time, so why should this particular eruption be strange? It’s strange for the sheer intensity of the blast. The sound of the eruption is on record as the loudest sound ever historically reported and was heard almost 2,000 miles away in Perth, Australia. It makes sense that it was so loud, as the explosion also destroyed two thirds of the island of Krakatoa, rendering it uninhabitable (though subsequent eruptions have rebuilt part of it) as well as destroying other small surrounding islands. The impact of the explosion was felt worldwide, with waves, dust and shock waves traveling far from the site. Also interesting to note is that the dust from the explosion caused what is called a “blue moon” continuously for almost two years, rendering the old expression “once in a blue moon” meaningless.
  5. Deadly Hailstorms, Bangladesh, 1986: Hail isn’t an uncommon occurrence, but most of the time hail stays small and relatively harmless. Yet every once in awhile conditions cause hail to reach considerably larger circumferences. The largest hail on record fell in the city of Gopalganj, Bangladesh in the spring of 1986, reaching sizes of over 2 pounds, killing over 92 people and helpless livestock, stripping trees, destroying crops, and leveling substandard residences. While you might encounter larger than normal hail in your lifetime, you likely won’t die from it, which is part of what makes this hail so strange.
  6. New Madrid Earthquake, Missouri, 1811-1812: While the Western United States is better known for being earthquake prone, a large part of the Midwest also rides along a fault line, and while not particularly active, when it does act up it does so on a grand scale. Luckily, at the time, the area hit worst by the quake was sparsely populated, so few lives were lost, but the geologic impact was bizarre and widespread. Huge cracks split the ground, and the vibration from the earthquake actually temporality caused the Mississippi to flow backwards. There were more permanent effects as well, which reshaped the landscape of the Midwest. Cliffs along the river crumbled, tributaries dried up and rerouted, and the channel of the river was forever altered with the creation of the Kentucky Bend. Some lakes were instantly filled with sand as land masses rose, and others like Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee were formed when land suddenly sunk. And it wasn’t just the midwest that felt the quake, damage was reported in New England as well, with church bells rung in Boston and sidewalks cracked in Washington, DC. Many geologic processes are slow and take millions of years to happen, so it’s rare to see such a dramatic reshaping of the environment over such a short period of time.
  7. Snake Invasion, St. Pierre, Martinique, 1902: A combination of geologic and natural phenomena led to this strange event in 1902. Volcanic activity in the “Bald Mountain” of Martinique wasn’t unusual, so few people noticed when tremors and ventholes began occurring in April. By May, however, ash was raining down and the awful smell of sulfur permeated the air, forcing thousands of fer-de lance snakes from their mountainside homes. The poisonous snakes took up residence in human quarters, killing over 50 people and countless animals before being largely destroyed by feral cats and soldiers. The Guerin Sugar Works, two miles northwest of St. Pierre, was also affected when invaded by swarms of speckled ants and foot-long centipedes, which bit unfortunate horses and workers who tried to subdue them. Unfortunately, the calming of animal and insect populations wouldn’t make much difference, as a few weeks later the volcano sent a wave of boiling mud down the mountainside setting off the chain of events resulting in the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. PelĂ©e killing all but two of the 30,000 residents of St. Pierre.
  8. Tri State Tornado, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, 1925: Regular tornadoes are dangerous enough, but the tornado that passed through these three states in March of 1925 makes all others wimpy in comparison. The tornado traveled over 219 miles and was one of the strongest ever recorded, setting the standard for a level 5 twister on the Fujita scale. Theory on tornadoes and supercell storms suggests that a journey of this distance is impossible, but reports confirm that this tornado did in fact traverse three different states without stopping, killing almost 700, injuring over 2,000 and doing what at the time was $16.5 million worth of property damage.
  9. The Chandka Forest Elephant Stampede, India, 1972: The spring of 1972 found the Chandka forest area in the depths of an extended drought. To make matters worse, the region was then hit by a searing heat wave. This caused the local elephants, normally docile and not a threat to humans in the area, frenzied by the lack of water and food, to become a danger to local farmers, so much so that many were afraid to leave their homes. The situation persisted well into summer and the elephants, finally broken by the heat went berserk and stampeded through five different villages, causing 24 deaths and destroying everything in their paths. Interestingly enough, this area, much wetter today, is now an elephant reserve where tourists can get a close up view of the region’s elephants.
  10. Great Smog, London, 1952: While this is not an entirely natural event, the environment did play a big role in setting off the chain of events that brought it on. Early in December of 1952, a heavy and cold fog moved into the London area. Due to the increased coldness of the weather, Londoners began burning more coal to warm their homes. The pollution released by burning the coal didn’t escape into the environment, however. It was trapped by the inversion layer formed by the dense mass of cold air hanging over the city. These pollutants built up over the course of four days until the smog became so thick that driving became impossible. Staying indoors wasn’t any help either, as the smoke easily entered homes and even caused concerts and plays to be canceled as attendees couldn’t see the stage through the smoke. At the time, there was no big panic over the smog. Yet in the weeks that followed, over 4,000 people died, and another 8,000 in the months that followed, all from respiratory problems caused or aggravated by the pollution. The lives were not lost in vain, however, as the deaths promoted the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1956 and people became more aware of their affect on environmental occurrences.