September/October 2021 Issue
Whether you live in the suburbs, a wildland urban interface area, or miles from the nearest town, it’s important to make your yard more resistant to fire in addition to preparing yourself and your home for a potential wildfire.
Follow these steps to harden your landscape and choose fire-resistant plants to help prevent embers and small flames from igniting your home.
1. Create a defensible space.
Defensible space is crucial to help your home survive a wildfire, and in many jurisdictions throughout the West, it’s required by city or state fire codes. “Defensible space is a necessary zone that separates your property from any flammable plants around, including shrubs, trees, and grass,” says Bryan McKenzie, a landscape designer and gardening expert. “A defensible space can protect your property from a wildfire if it reaches your yard.” This space acts as a buffer to protect your property not only from direct fire, but also from embers and radiant heat.
In addition to helping slow the spread of fire, defensible space also makes it more convenient for firefighters to battle approaching flames, offering them a secure spot in your yard.
To form defensible space around your home, you will create three zones:
- Zone 0 extends 5 feet from buildings, decks, and other structures. According to Cal Fire, in this zone you should use only noncombustible hardscape materials such as concrete, gravel, and pavers as mulch materials. Remove all dead and dying grass, weeds, plants, and shrubs, and limit combustible items on top of decks, including furniture and planters.
- Zone 1 extends 30 feet from buildings, decks, and other structures. As in Zone 0, remove all dead plants, weeds, and vegetation. Remove fallen leaves and pine needles, and trim tree branches so they are at least six feet off the ground and 10 feet away from structures and other trees.
- Zone 2 extends 30 to 100 feet from buildings, decks, and other structures. In this zone, cut or mow annual grass to about four inches. Create horizontal space between shrubs and trees to prevent fire from spreading should one ignite: Cal Fire’s graphics can help you determine how much space is necessary depending on the slope of your yard.
2. Remove flammable plants from your yard.
Some plants are more likely to catch fire than others. Any plants that naturally contain resins, oils, or waxes are the most prone to fire and should be removed from close proximity to structures, according to Andrew Rable, manager of forestry and fire mitigation at Arizona Public Service Co.
All conifers and most ornamental grasses are also highly flammable and should not be grown within 30 feet of any structures, especially in regions prone to wildfires. McKenzie also advises that homeowners remove cypress, arborvitae, rosemary, eucalyptus, and ornamental juniper from Zones 0 and 1.