If you live in an area where wildfires are a concern, there are a few steps you can take to help protect your home and landscape. In this article, we will cover wildfire prevention, protection, and revival after a fire.
It is typically recommended to break your property into two zones (minimum depending on the size of your property).
Zone 1 is known as ‘defensible space’ which includes the first 30’ around your home. In this zone, it is important to try to minimize large amounts of vegetation, remove dead vegetation, and it might even be worth considering the addition of hard surfaces such as cement, stone or brick.
In this zone, irrigation or watering is critical. It is important to keep your landscape plants well maintained, including keeping mulch consistently moist.
Zone 2 is the area that is 30’ - 70’ away from your home. In this zone, it is important to keep vegetation cut to 4” or less and to trim this zone regularly. In addition, it is recommended to replace any more flammable plants - such as pines and cedars - and replace them with plants that more fire-resistant and that are native to your location.
If you have a larger property, you will have two additional zones:
Zone 3 is known as the ‘transition zone’, and this covers the area 70’ - 100’ away from your home. In this zone, it is important to clean up any areas where there is a lot of brush or out of control vegetation. If this is left untended it can provide fuel for wildfires.
Zone 4 is known as the ‘perimeter zone’ this is 100’ away from the home and beyond. This area, much like zone three, needs to be cleaned up and maintained consistently in order to keep brush and vegetation under control. You don’t necessarily need to water this area if it is not part of your landscaping, however, it is important to keep it clean and clear, as to not add potential fuel to a wildfire.
To get started, let’s cover the steps you can take to help prevent fires from starting:
- Trim and dispose of dry/dead brush and grass as soon as possible. Dry, untamed, and overgrown debris in your yard are all potential fuel for a fire. Dry landscaping can ignite if a burning ember lands in the brush.
- Maintain the vegetation around your home. This includes; removing debris from your roof and gutters, prune away any overhanging branches, and remove any pine needles and/or dead leaves.
- All firewood should always be kept between 30 - 100 feet away from your home. (Depending on your location)
- Keep an eye out on your property for issues with shrub growth and ‘volunteer’ trees. (Saplings that come up from seed all by themselves). This will be important to clear out routinely.
- Use watering devices to keep a well-maintained landscape. Surprisingly, well-maintained landscaping can actually serve as a buffer during a wildfire. The landscaping has the potential to help stop flying embers from reaching your home.
- Healthy, well maintained/watered plants can be resistant to embers as the moisture the plant contains helps to prevent it from igniting. Contrastingly, dead and dry landscaping can provide fuel for the fire. Landscaping can be helpful to protect your home, as long as it is properly maintained and sufficiently watered. Here are a few products to consider:
- There aren’t any specific plants that are ‘fireproof’, however, there are plants that are known as ‘fire-resistant’. Fire-resistant plants have a high moisture content, making them resistant to ignition. Included in these plants are aloe-vera, California Fuchsia, and French Lavender. Plants that are native to your location will be the best choice.
When landscaping your yard, it is important to space bushes, shrubs, and trees apart. Grass and vegetation should be cut to 4” or less.
- Trees or clumps of trees should be spaced appropriately apart. The measurement between the trees is from the tops of the trees, rather than the distance between trunks. In the diagram below, four zones are shown:
0’ - 5’: No trees should be planted here
5’ - 30’: Minimum of 18’ between treetops
30’ - 60’: Minimum of 12’ between treetops
60’ - 100’:Minimum of 6’ between treetops
Now that we’ve covered how to prevent fires from starting, we will cover the ways to actively protect your property if there is a wildfire in your area.
Use your lawn sprinklers! Sprinklers create an environment that extinguishes embers. (Embers are the primary cause of home ignitions). The sprinklers offer ember protection in three ways:
By hydrating (dampening) potential fuel for the fire.
Increasing humidity in the air.
Creating a cooler ‘microclimate’ around your home.
There are many different ways to protect your lawn using drip irrigation. Many out of the box solutions come from creative innovation. You may even want to consider installing a rooftop sprinkler system. An external rooftop sprinkler can offer additional water coverage and protection of your home and landscaping. Drip Depot does not carry rooftop sprinklers at this time. However, you may be able to find a supplier locally, or here is a link to an online rooftop sprinkler supplier: http://roofsaversprinklers.com/
Third - lastly, we will cover how to revive your property after a wildfire.
Right after a fire, your first instinct may be to go out and begin the process of reviving/revegetating the land as fast as possible. This is actually not advised. It is better to let the natural recovery begin - this happens within the first few years after a wildfire.
If you are returning to your property right away, after a fire, it is important that you check around your property periodically during the first couple of days to ensure that there are no embers or coals still in the area that could pose a potential danger.
Coals can continue to stay hot for hours and even days after a fire has been out. If a smoldering ember or coal is not noticed, this would pose a risk of a ‘flare-up’ - which could result in the fire igniting again.
One of the most damaging long-term impacts that occur after a wildfire is soil erosion. When this happens, the land deteriorates, losing its soil and the ability to grow. Here are a few things to look for when trying to spot possible soil erosion:
Exposed, bare-mineral soil
Bare spots that have no vegetation to protect from rainfall
Soil so severely burned that it repels water
Steep, hilly slopes and the land downslope of the burned areas
Areas with heavy rain
In areas with erosion, it is important to assess and understand the damage. This may require reaching out to a local professional to come and analyze the severity of the damage and risk of erosion.
Oftentimes, with low-intensity fires, pine needles and leaves from surrounding trees fall and can provide some cover. In areas where additional coverage is needed, spreading weed-free straw, wood chips, or mulch can help build cover for protecting the soil. In addition to these techniques, other options you might use include; hydro-seeding, the use of jute netting, log-terraces, or wattles. Please note that if these techniques are not done correctly, they can create a higher risk of erosion.
Again, if you need help with erosion control, you may want to reach out to a local professional who can help you on-site.
Fortunately, many species of trees can withstand and even recover from fire damage (depending on the severity, of course). To address areas with damaged trees, you’ll want to keep an eye out for:
Scorched or burnt leaves and needles
Damage to roots
Damage to the trunk and main branches
The severity of damage of the inner tissue (known as cambium)
Many other species of ‘non-woody’ vegetation may also retain their healthy root systems in a fire. This is due to native plants adapting to adverse events in their environment; although their leaves and/or branches are singed or burnt by fire, their root system remains intact.
In restoration projects, using native plants can help to accelerate the revival in the natural recovery of the ecosystem and vegetation. However, it is incredibly important that the recovering vegetation is maintained to ensure fire safety. Many species of plants resprout right away following a fire -- unfortunately, this can lead to heightened fire risks, as the newly started vegetation can provide additional fuel for a fire.
Seed bombs, ‘guerilla’ gardening, and quickly replanting can often be the source of invasive species. Introducing invasive species into your landscape can increase the overall risk of a fire.