This time of year always makes me think of what is to come this summer, when the temperatures get high, and the humidity gets low. The wind increases, and the moisture decreases, which all added together is good reason to know how to protect your home from wildfires.
It doesn’t matter where you live, there is always a risk of fire and there are things you can do to decrease the risk of loss due to fire. My favorite two words this time of year are fire mitigation. Doesn’t that just sound impressive?
All kidding aside, you may wonder what fire mitigation means, and breaking the definition down it means the management of land to reduce the risk of fire. You can personally take some small steps and build upon them to help protect your home in the event it is ever threatened by fire.
Now for the sake of simplicity, and what we have personally experienced, I want to share with you tips for fire mitigation from a more rural setting; however the application can be used in a suburban setting as well. Everything helps, and the more you do, the better prepared your home will be.
You can hire the work to be done, but this can be really expensive, and difficult to find someone to do it. I am a perpetual cheapskate, so I am bound and determined to do the work myself.
First things first, clear out the dead stuff and create a defensible space.
Although time consuming, and a lot of physical work, clearing out the dead material that can burn from your property is a good place to begin. If you have lots of dried weeds, pull them, if you have years of pine needles clogging up the ground under a tree, rake them up and dispose of them. Dead tree limbs…get them out!
Some of the ‘dead’ material like grass clippings and leaves can be used for compost, but the heavier items like tree branches and tons of pine needles won’t really add to your compost pile, and could actually act as a fuel during a wildfire situation, so to play it safe dispose of the larger debris.
Plan on walking around your property, and look at all of the trees, and your landscaping, is there a lot of dead stuff hanging around? If you aren’t sure, grab your cell phone or digital camera and snap some pictures of your property, getting farther away if you need to in order to really “see” the bigger picture. Do your dead stuff removal, and once your job is completed, go back to the same areas that you took your first set of pictures.
Now, compare your before and after photos. Can you see the change? My guess is you can. If you have a very large lot, or lots of landscaping, this is not a task that you will be able to finish in an afternoon. It may take you several weeks, but you will really doing a lot to protect your property, just as a precaution.
Don’t give fire the opportunity to leap closer to your home.
If you have seen any wildfire footage, I am sure you have seen how the fire moves, almost slithering across the ground, only to engulf tree after tree after tree, as it makes its way closer and closer to a home. This doesn’t have to happen.
If you have a lot of trees and shrubs on your property, trim them back, and put more of a barrier between your home and the surrounding vegetation. Having a ‘defendable space’ between your home and the outlying property could mean the difference between your home being lost, or surviving a wildfire.
Make sure your gutter are cleaned out, and not full of debris. Also make sure there are not tree limbs hanging over your roof. The reasoning for this is during a fire, hot embers will be picked up, and floated sometimes over great distances. And if your gutters are clogged with dead leaves, branches, or pine needles, that is fuel waiting to serve as an ignition source for a hot ember.
So now you have gone around your property and gotten rid of the dead stuff, and removed as much of the fuels as you can. The next step is to create your defendable (defensible) space around your home. It may seem backward to do it this way, but for me it works, so this is how I do it. If you want to do this step first, do what works best for you. There is no right or wrong way to do it, just do it.
When creating defendable space around your home, you are going to create a perimeter around the structure. This perimeter will be broken up into 2 zones. Zone 1 is 0 to 50 feet from your home, and zone 2 is 50-100 feet around your home. These 2 zones make up your defense area.
Zone 1 (0-50 ft. from your home)
In this area you want to have the greatest reduction of any potential fuels. Make sure there are no tree limbs hanging over your roof, and keep this area the ‘dampest’. If you have vegetation in this area, and most of us do, try having drought tolerant plants, and keep the area damp, either by drip irrigation, or a sprinkler system.
One thing you really don’t want to have within that 50 foot perimeter from your house is landscaping bark, or mulch. I know this goes against keeping the ground damp, but realistically, the decorative bark and mulch tend to get dry, and are an excellent fuel for fire. And where do most people put that pretty mulch? Yep, around the perimeter of their home.
So instead of buying bags of mulch every year to fill in those flower beds, how about adding a nice rock garden around your house? This will never need to be replaced, and although more expensive, will create a fantastic barrier helping to keep your home firewise.
If you want to be really cautious you could do your whole front yard like the picture below, although this might be overdoing it a little bit. It would save on water and you wouldn’t have to mow 🙂
Zone 2 (50-100 ft. from your home)
In this area, you want to have thinner vegetation than in the outer lying area. Meaning you can have a few more plants, but don’t get too crazy. You don’t want to have close groups of trees, shrubs and plant. You want to keep this still spaced out.
Also with tress, try to trim the lower branches so there is clearance from the ground to the lowest branch. This helps to reduce the vertical ladder effect from fire creeping through the grass, and ‘climbing into a nearby tree. The same holds true for keeping the vegetation, meaning trees, shrubs, etc. sparsely throughout the zone 2 area.
Now depending on which pamphlet you are looking at will determine how large zone 1 and zone 2 should be for your defendable perimeter. I like even numbers, and due to the fact there are no fire hydrants in my area, more is better, which is why I opt for having a larger perimeter for my home.
An Amazing Video
And as an incredible example of a defendable area around your home, check out this amazing video from the Black Forest Fire that happened here in Colorado last year:
So by doing some carefully planning, and a little bit (OK, in some cases a LOT) of hard work, you can help to protect your home from the devastation of a wildfire…Or any personal doomsday for that matter.
Some references you can download and may find helpful with greater detail about fire mitigation:
Creating Wildfire-Defensible Zones
This one is my favorite… Protecting Your Home from Wildfire
As a former volunteer firemen, I totally concure with this article. From experience, you do not want pineneedles anywhere near your home. They smoke terribly and the firemen can not see to knock down the flames. Regrettably, living in a rainforest as I do, has made me complacient to the needs of cleaning up around my own yard. “Very Trying”!