fireThe United States saw a long period of drought in 2015, which had widespread effects. Crop yields were limited, water supplies dwindled, and wildfires raged throughout the west. The spread of wildfire can be especially devastating. Luckily, homeowners can lessen their vulnerability to wildfires with a little planning.
This summer, use the following firesafe landscaping tips to make your property as safe as possible in the event of a fire.
Build a Firesafe Zoned Defense
It’s easier to think your home is invincible when it comes to fire hazards, but it’s much safer to think of worst case scenario. If you plan your landscape around defensible zones, you’ll thank yourself in the event of a fire. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection gives homeowners helpful guidelines on how to build defensible zones around your home in case of fire.
Zone One, the 30 feet closest to your home and other structures on your property (like sheds), should be free of trees and combustibles, and contain short, preferably drought resistant, plants.
Zone Two begins at the edge of Zone One and extends out another 70 feet. This area should be carefully laid out so that plants and flammables are a placed good distance apart, which reduces the chances that a fire would spread. Here are some actionable tips to help you build your zoned defense:
- Make sure trees are far enough away from your home: Trees act as fire bridges and ladders, which makes fire spread rapidly to other areas that may otherwise remain untouched. Remove trees within 30 feet of the house and trim any branches that reach within 10 feet of the roof. Trees that produce resin, like pine trees, are especially flammable and should be avoided altogether if your area is at high risk of wildfires.
- Plant succulents and cacti in place of flowers and bushes: Plants like succulents and cacti are great drought resistant plants to have in your garden. They beat droughts by storing water, which also makes them a little more resistant to fire. Luckily, succulents and cacti provide visual interest in any landscape, so you won’t have to sacrifice beauty for safety.
- Be careful where you put your grill and other combustibles: Your grill, propane tanks, containers of gasoline, gas powered yard tools, piles of firewood, and other combustibles should be kept at least 30 feet away from your home. In the event of a fire, these materials will provide fuel for the fire to spread even more quickly. Stores of fuel can even cause explosions, which are extremely dangerous.
Try Out Xeriscaping
With the growing scarcity of fresh water, landscapers are starting to adopt new gardening principles meant to reduce the need to use too much water and help alleviate water crises drought stricken areas. A new movement, called xeriscaping, has emerged as a result. In addition to saving water, xeriscaping has an added benefit: it can also work to reduce fire risk around your home.
Here are some helpful tips to get you started with xeriscaping:
- Cut down on grassy areas and replace mulch by using rocks and stone in these areas instead.
- Put up wind breaks like brick or stone walls, and iron gates to slow the spread of fire.
- Plant container gardens to keep plants contained and easily movable in the event of a fire.
- Plant drought resistant vegetation in your garden, like the succulents and cacti mentioned above
Clean Your Gutters
If your gutters are clogged with leaves, pine needles, or other organic debris, they are far from being firesafe. Sparks and embers may land in your gutters and ignite this material. Because your gutters are so high up, you may not notice that anything is amiss until the fire gets out of control, which gives the fire time to engulf the entire house.
Many homeowners think routine gutter cleaning is the only way to prevent this issue, but that’s simply not true. Gutter cleaning is only a temporary solution to a permanent problem. Gutter protection eliminates the need for gutter cleaning altogether by keeping leaves and debris out of your gutters for good.
Keep Up with Regular Landscaping Maintenance
This is a good tip for any homeowners, but it is especially important for those in drought- and fire-prone areas. There are two essential maintenance tasks to help mitigate the risk of fires in your backyard:
- Remove all dead organic materials: Dead trees, plants, and other organic material pose a huge threat to your home in the event of fire. Remove all tree limbs six or fewer feet from the ground. You should also remove all dead branches as soon as you spot them, even if they’re higher than six feet from the ground.Dead leaves and flowers should also be regularly cleaned up. If an entire plant looks dead, pull it from your garden immediately.
- Keep your plants and lawn well-watered: Make sure to give your landscaping a good soak every few days to keep everything green. You can avoid having to drag out the heavy hose or watering can to water by installing an automated irrigation system. More sophisticated systems can even be set to turn on when it detects low moisture levels.
In extreme droughts, some areas may be put under water restrictions. In this case, just be extra vigilant to remove dead organic materials. If you have a lawn, de-thatch when it starts to look brown or dry. It is important to remember that nothing is completely fireproof. These steps will help you lessen the risk of a fire spreading, and give you more time to put the fire out. However, fires are unpredictable and can get out of hand quickly. If a fire starts in your area, be sure to remain alert, follow directions from authorities, and be ready for evacuation if necessary.
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