It’s that time again. Wildfire season is in full swing, and while this year is looking to be less drastic than last summer, several major fires have already burned thousands of acres across the country. Add to that the saddening deaths of the 19 Arizona firefighters and the devastating Black Forest fire of Colorado that’s left hundreds homeless, and this season is looking tragic in its own right. Last year I wrote a blog post about the importance of erosion control and reclamation after a wildfire. This year I want to focus on how to prevent, or at least minimize, wildfire damage to your land and property in areas where the risk of wildfire is high. It’s important to understand that no landscape is totally fireproof. Even the most fire-resistant plant materials will burn under extreme conditions. However, there are techniques you can use and plant materials you can utilize to make your property more wildfire-resistant.
The first principle in developing a wildfire-resistant property is the concept of defensible space. The defensible space is the area between your home (or barn, shed, etc.) and the oncoming wildfire. It’s the area where firefighters will work to defend and where you have the most control in slowing or stopping the wildfire’s progress. Since all wildfires need fuel (plant materials) to burn, the defensible space should be low in fuel and planted with materials that burn poorly. Strive for a defensible space of at least 30 feet in all directions from your home. This may need to increase if your home is located on a slope since fire can easily jump from a slope to a building. Areas beyond 30 feet should still be managed to reduce wildfire risk. Maintaining a defensible space of at least 30 feet with an additional wildfire-resistant area 70 feet beyond that offers the best chance of your property coming away from a wildfire unharmed.
Selecting the Proper Plant Materials
Plant materials within the defensible space should consist of grasses, wildflowers and other low-growing materials that remain green throughout the year. Trees and shrubs should not be used within the 30 foot defensible space since they act as “latters” for wildfires. Beyond the defensible space, plant trees and shrubs 20-25 feet apart. The best wildfire deterrent within the defensible space is well-managed green lawn grass. Native grasses are particularly well suited for wildfire-resistance. Western wheatgrass, streambank fescue, Indian ricegrass, blue grama and Sandberg bluegrass are all excellent choices for use in wildfire resistant blends. Please contact us directly for prices and availability of these grasses. Keep all grasses within the defensible space at three inches in height and no more than eight inches high in areas beyond the defensible space. Wildflowers are also a good choice for wildfire-resistant landscaping, although they must be mowed at the end of their life cycles to eliminate potential wildfire fuel.
More Firewise Tips
The strategic use of hardscape and non-flammable mulch also plays a role in an effective defensible space. Driveways, pathways, patios, rock walls and ponds all act as firebreaks and will help slow oncoming fires. Be sure to keep the defensible space clean and free of clutter, debris and dead plant material. Since trees are particularly vulnerable to wildfires, keep them well pruned and healthy. Conifers are more susceptible to wildfire than deciduous types. Inspect your roof regularly and remove any debris that may have collected there and in gutters. If you store firewood, keep it beyond the defensible space and never against your home.