Defensible Space 102: Creating fire-resistant landscaping

Defensible Space 102 is the second installment in a ‘how to’ blog series teaching you how to defend your home against wildfire. Stay tuned for Defensible Space 103 next Wednesday!

This post was scheduled for last Wednesday, March 27, but DNR was busy managing a major landslide that occurred on Whidbey Island. This just goes to remind us, you can’t plan for a disaster. Prepare today.

Defensible space
Firefighters defending a home against wildfire have a better chance if the home has defensible space built around it.
Photo by: Jessica Payne/DNR

Last week, we covered the basics (view Defensible Space 101 here). Today, the lesson covers what to do next, and what more is involved. What can you do this weekend to protect your home, even if you only have a day at a time to work on it?    

Defend your home from wildfire 102
Spring is here and that means it’s time for spring cleaning. April brings sun and showers to Washington, leading to a sudden abundance of vegetation around your home.

If a wildfire starts near your home, this undergrowth of flammable vegetation (abundant grasses, shrubs, branches and twigs) can create what is called ‘surface fire.’ Surface fires burn hot and are very dangerous to your home. Firefighters call this area around a home the ‘home ignition zone.’ The amount of these surface fuels around your home determines its vulnerability to wildfire.

If you have a day:

  • Plan for proper access and escape routes: The job of a wildland firefighter requires exceptional effort, so let’s not add to the risks. It will be very difficult for firefighters to come in and protect your home if they cannot get their fire engine in, and out, of your property. Proper access and escape routes are as important for firefighters as it is for you. The ideal driveway is wide enough for a large engine to turn around without having to back up.
  • Remove flammable plants: Plants that contain resins, oils, and waxes burn readily and could increase your home’s vulnerability to wildfire. These include ornamental junipers, paupon, holly, red cedar, and young pine.
  • Create fire-resistant landscaping: Fire-resistant landscaping can be both functional and beautiful. Regardless of whether you’re in the design phase or just doing yard maintenance, remember, preventing wildfire damage is really a matter of the right plant in the right place. Here are some tips to follow:
    • Use plants with high moisture content (deciduous) nearest the home.
    • Keep vegetation, including the lawn, around the home low and green.
    • Keep decorative ground covers such as beauty bark away from direct contact with your home – bark and wood chip ground covers can smolder.
    • Trim back trees and shrubbery around structures so that fire crews and their vehicles will have safe access in the case of an emergency.
    • Select plants that may reduce your risk from wildfire — they’ll often be the ones that best fit the climate in your part of Washington.
    • Create defensible space: Trees, shrubs, grasses and other vegetation provide fuel for fires. Reducing or even eliminating vegetation close to structures is a way to create defensible space against a wildfire.
  • Cover the basics: Before you start on these more advanced techniques, make sure you have a good base. View our Defensible Space 101 post to ensure you’ve taken your first steps to defend your home from wildfire threats.

If you’re designing or updating your home’s landscaping, think of ways to incorporate firebreaks (things that don’t burn) into your landscape design. A defensible space doesn’t have to be an eyesore. Some examples of firebreaks are: concrete, brick or gravel walkways, concrete flower box borders or planters, and water features, such as a pond. Even the backyard swimming pool can serve as a firebreak.

Stay tuned next Wednesday for our third installment of this ‘how to’ blog series: Defensible Space 103: Next steps for defending your home against wildfire.

For more information on creating defensible space landscaping, take the Firewise Communities Firewise Landscaping online course here.

For updates on disaster preparation all year round, and updates during active wildfire events, make sure to follow us on DNR’s Fire Twitter.

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