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brush fire suburb

Landscaping to help thwart wildfires is simply about clean up and maintenance. Find out how to firescape your property with defensible space.

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After a wet spring and record rainfall throughout May in the southern Rocky Mountains, we aren’t too concerned about wildfires this summer. It’s damp, cool and not windy. Dry winters are followed by windy springs, which means the smallest spark from a cigarette, blow out or campfire can start a fire that gets carried quickly. Dry grass and forests are rich nutrition for a flame.

This year we are going to relax for a while, but that’s not the case in other parts of the country. The California drought is already causing fires around the state, and homes are sure to be lost.

Can firescaping save them?

What is firescaping?

This is a subject that seems to get talked about only when fires start, but all homes in fire prone areas should be landscaped with defensible space to keep wildfires at bay.

The National Fire Protection Association created the Firewise Communities Program® to teach homeowners how to protect their properties from wildfires.

The concept is very simple. The yard needs to be cleared of fuel for a fire and planted in a certain manner to deter the spread of flames. There are also recommendations for building materials and methods that are fire resistant.

Zone 1: close to the house

There are three zones. Zone 1, a 30’ perimeter directly around the house, should be free of brush piles, woodpiles, and dead trees, shrubs and grass. Keep leaves and debris raked up to avoid them catching a flying ember.

Of all the plantings in the yard, these should have the highest water requirements, and they need to be watered regularly. They should be low-growing and free of resins and oils that are highly flammable, such as evergreens. Ground covers and herbaceous perennials are a good choice for this area.

Trees should be spaced 20-30′ apart, limbs cut back away from the house, and branches pruned at least 6’ above the ground. Hardscaping (decks and walkways) are best made of non-flammable material. The point is to make this zone as fire unfriendly as possible. Don’t feed the fire!

 

Zones 2 and 3: farther out

Zone 2 is 30-100’ from the house. Trees should be spaced at least 20’ apart and pruned 6’ above ground. Combine evergreens and deciduous trees in clusters. Build firebreaks with hardscaping, such as driveways and walkways.

Zone 3 is 100-200’ from the house. Create space between trees by removing saplings. Be sure the canopy of each tree is not touching to keep fire from speeding along the tops of the trees.

Anything farther out than 200’ also needs to be kept trimmed and cleaned up.

Fire resistant house and outbuildings

People who live in fire prone areas can fireproof their homes as well as their yards. Preventative measures are being written into building codes now.

Tile or metal should be used on roofs instead of shingles or cedar shakes. Consider a rock or brick patio instead of a wooden deck.

Clean out your garage and shed, and be sure your propane tank is not in Zone 1. Box in a raised deck to keep leaves and twigs from accumulating under it. Fine mesh screening is an effective alternative, and should be used on attic vents and soffits, too.

Clean and maintain

The main point of firescaping is to eliminate fuel for a fire. If you clean up your yard and maintain it properly, you might be able to weather a fire. We have no control over wildfires, but we do have control over what is on our property to feed one.

Do what you can to prevent a disaster at home, and get your neighbors involved. Your yard might be well-maintained, but it is detrimental if adjoining properties are not.

Check out Firewise® for more info.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.