Certain parts of the country used to have a fairly predictable fire season, but the times are changing. California, for example, now has to be on fire alert throughout the entire year. That means there’s no time like the present to prepare your house for a fire. And that doesn’t just mean buying homeowners or renters insurance. There are some fire safety steps you can take to make your home or apartment less likely to burn in a fire. By implementing these three landscaping fire safety tips, you can better protect yourself, your family, your belongings and your property from a wildfire.
Move combustible patio furniture at least 30 feet from your house. Image: Thom Filicia
Create defensible spaces
One of the top fire safety steps every homeowner and renter should take is creating defensible space. This is essentially clearing space around the walls of your abode. If you’re a renter, this can be a little trickier; get permission from your landlord first. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends removing vegetation, debris or anything else that could catch fire from the perimeter around your home. Generally, it’s considered best practice to maintain two zones of defensible space.
Defensible space 1
Imagine a 30-foot ring around your house. Now remove anything even remotely combustible from that ring. That means clearing out your gutters on a regular basis, removing fallen vegetation from your roof and trimming tree branches as needed. If you keep a wood pile, make sure you move it at least 30 feet from your home. Yes, it means lugging the wood a little further when you want to make a fire. But it also means there won’t be a big pile of kindling just waiting to go up in flames right next to your house.
If you have patio furniture that you store within the first defensible space, make sure it’s non-combustible. You may also want to upgrade your deck to a non-combustible material.
Defensible space 2
Keep up with your outdoor maintenance within 100 feet of your home, or up to your property line. This means regularly mowing grass and trimming any other foliage and clearing the ground of dead leaves and pine needles. Generally, any tree branch that’s less than six feet from the ground should be cut. If you have trees, shrubs or other plant life, think through the spacing. Trees, for example, should be at least ten feet apart so fire has a more difficult time jumping between them.
Even beyond 100 feet from your house, keeping your property thinned and pruned makes it less likely that a fire quickly reach your home.
Use hardscaping to create an area around your home where fire won’t find any fuel. Image: Eric Brandon Gomez
Use hard surfaces
Hardscaping has a number of benefits. It’s easy to maintain, adds architectural appeal to your outdoor spaces and is fire safe. A wide concrete driveway, for example, can protect the front of your house. Gravel, steel and stone are other great hard surface options that resist fire and can help you protect your home.
Whether you’re taking on a small-scale outdoor task like edging your planters or renovating your deck or patio, choose hard surfaces to literally build fire safety into the fabric of your outdoor space. You can also intersperse hard surfaces within your landscaping to break up large swaths of vegetation.
Succulents store water in their leaves, making them less likely to burn. Image: Debora Carl Landscape Design
Use native vegetation
Fires need fuel. Your landscaping can be just what it needs to travel right up to your home, putting it at immediate risk. Or, it can be a help. When you’re planting the areas around your home, it’s generally a good rule of thumb to choose native species. These plants are adapted to thrive in your area, meaning they’ll root deeply and retain water more easily, making them less likely to burn. On the flip side, non-native species are more likely to get dried out by the conditions to which they aren’t naturally acclimated, making them ideal kindling for a fire.
Most areas will have resources available about which native species are most fire-resistant. In general, look for plants with leaves that have a high water content and do not create much dry wood or leaves. Succulents are an excellent example since they store water in their leaves.
Planting wisely, leveraging hardscaping and creating defensible spaces are the keys to fire safety outside your home or apartment. Use these tips to help defend against this natural disaster so you can rest easier no matter what the seasons bring your way.
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