5 wildfire-resistant landscape projects for homeowners

Posted: September 01, 2021 | Word Count: 769

Wildfires are already impacting communities in the Western and Southwestern United States and the fall winds ahead will only threaten to push fires into more populated areas. Wildfires spread in hot, dry and windy conditions, with homes often ignited by embers blown far ahead of the fire-front. Continuing maintenance and reducing fuels, especially in dense suburban communities, is one way homeowners can have an impact on fire conditions. The upcoming Labor Day weekend is the ideal time to improve your home’s wildfire preparedness including the landscaping around your home.

Up to ninety percent of homes ignited by wildfire will result in a complete loss. Adapting a home to wildfire can feel overwhelming, but there are actions to make a home more resistant to embers so you can be wildfire ready by the peak wildfire season and help drive down the devastating impacts of these events.

Daniel Gorham is a firefighter and wildfire research engineer at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), a nonprofit whose wildfire research translates into actionable guidance for homeowners. According to Daniel, “We are not helpless against these fires. Now is the time for homeowners, neighborhoods and communities to map the journey to a more resilient home. This is so important, because firefighters simply can't be everywhere and protect every home during an active wildfire.”

One part of a home may be wildfire-resistant while another remains highly vulnerable leaving the structure, and neighboring homes, at risk. To make the greatest impact in driving down that risk, homeowners should start by addressing the most vulnerable areas of the home and then continue with additional improvements paired with ongoing maintenance and debris removal.

Consider your landscaping. From the edge of the foundation to the edge of the property, every choice impacts the wildfire resistance of a home.

Wildfire-resistant landscaping tips

Defend the home ignition zone – The first five feet immediately around a home is critical. It should be designed and maintained to keep fire or embers from igniting anything in this area and spreading fire to your home. Use hardscape features like gravel, pavers, flagstone or concrete paths and other noncombustible mulch materials in this 5-foot zone around your home.

5-30 feet – Avoid planting vegetation aligned with the corner line of the home in the 5-30 foot zone. Prune trees so the distance between the upper leaf canopies is at least 10 feet apart, be sure to add more space if you’re on a steep slope. Space shrubs at a distance double the height the shrub may grow to, and again add even more space if you’re on a steep slope. Be sure to space your flower beds apart accounting for the largest and tallest shrub you are planning on using, with the goal to create breaks between possible fuel for a fire. This can help stop approaching flames from spreading to your home, especially in high wind conditions.

30+ feet – If the size of the property allows, this is the place for sheds and other accessory structures like gazebos and kids' playsets.

Remove items under your deck – Embers easily collect under decks and start spot fires that can become intense quickly. If a deck ignites it will likely spread fire to the rest of the home. Remove debris and vegetation like leaves or pine straw that may have collected underneath over the summer, as well as any items stored under your deck, like outdoor gear or lawn care supplies. Do not store wood on or underneath your deck. All of these materials can easily ignite and fuel a fire, putting your home in jeopardy.

Fencing – If you have fencing attached to your home made of a combustible material such as wood or plastic, replace at least the first 5 feet closest to your home with metal or other noncombustible versions (including replacing combustible gates attached to your home). Fences are another path for fire to reach and ignite your home so break the chain by making sure no combustible fences are attached to your home.

If you and your neighbor have fences that overlap, with a small gap between the two fence lines, debris can easily accumulate in this small space. Embers can easily land here, too, igniting both the debris and the fences. The two fences together create more fuel producing a more intense fire, increasing your home’s exposure to heat and even more burning embers. Talk to your neighbor and work together to take down any sections that overlap.

For more guidance to better protect your home from wildfire, IBHS’s Wildfire Ready guide is available at www.wildfire-ready.com.

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