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July 30, 2012

How to Landscape Your Home for Fire Safety

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By Pauline Hammerbeck

It's been a doozy of a wildfire season (Colorado's most destructive ever), leaving homeowners wondering what safety measures they can put in place to stave off flames in the event of a fire in their own neighborhood.

Landscaping, it turns out, can be an important measure in wildfire protection.

But fire-wise landscaping isn't just something for those dwelling on remote Western hilltops. Brush, grass and forest fires occur nearly everywhere in the United States, says the National Fire Protection Association. Here's how your landscaping can help keep you safe.

Create 'defensible' space

Most homes that burn during a wildfire are ignited by embers landing on the roof, gutters, and on decks and porches. So your first point of action should be creating a defensible space, a buffer zone around your home, to reduce sources of fuel.

Start by keeping the first 3 to 5 feet around your home free of all flammable materials and vegetation: plants, shrubs, trees and grasses, as well as bark and other organic mulches should all be eliminated (a neat perimeter of rock mulch or a rock garden can be a beautiful thing). Maintenance is also important:

  • Clear leaves, pine needles and other debris from roofs, gutters and eaves
  • Cut back tree branches that overhang the roof
  • Clear debris from under decks, porches and other structures

Moving farther from the house, you might consider adding hardscaping - driveways, patios, walkways, gravel paths, etc. These features add visual interest, but they also maintain a break between vegetation and your home in the event of a fire. Some additional tasks to consider in the first 100 feet surrounding your home:

  • Thin out trees and shrubs (particularly evergreens) within 30 feet
  • Trim low tree branches so they're a minimum of 6 feet off the ground
  • Mow lawn regularly and dispose of clippings and other debris promptly
  • Move woodpiles to a space at least 30 feet from your home

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