Firescaping: Landscaping for fire safety

Live in a wildfire prone area? If you’re in California like us the answer is probably yes. You may know that the materials your home is made out of can contribute to your home’s level of vulnerability to wildfire, but did you also know your landscaping can play a role in your home’s overall fire safety?

What Is Firescaping?

Firescaping is landscape design that reduces the vulnerability of your house and property to wildfire. The idea that surrounding the house with things that are less likely to burn makes your property less vulnerable to wildfire seems like a no-brainer, especially if you live in a fire prone area. When it comes time to plan our landscape design, however, wildfire resistance may not be top of mind.

The goal is to develop a landscape with a design and choice of plants that offer the best defensible, survivable space and enhance the property. Curb appeal matters too! Firescaping goes beyond plant selection to the mulches that you choose, the materials you select for gates and fencing and even your outdoor furniture.

Choose fire smart plants

By selecting the right plants, and maintaining them once they are planted, you can boost the chances of your home surviving a wildfire. Placement also matters. Imagine creating a fire safe barrier around your home, and it is beautiful and adds to the overall curb appeal of your property. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

Avoid Evergreens near the House

Minimize use of evergreen shrubs and trees within 30 feet of a structure because junipers, other conifers, and broadleaf evergreens (like camellias) contain oils, resins, and waxes that make these plants burn with great intensity. You will literally be adding fuel to the fire. Use ornamental grasses and berries sparingly here because they are also highly flammable. Choose “fire smart” plants. Low growing plants like succulents are full of moisture and unlikely to burn.

Deciduous trees are generally more fire resistant than evergreens because they have a higher moisture content when in leaf and a lower fuel volume when dormant, and they typically do not contain flammable oils.

Keep an eye on your tree limbs

Placement and maintenance of trees and shrubs are as important as actual plant selection. When placing trees in a landscape, remember the tree’s size at maturity. Even if your trees are already planted, make sure to keep tree limbs at least 15 feet from chimneys, power lines, and structures. Call your local power company and see if they offer tree trimming around power lines free of charge.

Build a fire safety bubble

Firescape design uses driveways, lawns, walkways, patios, parking areas, areas with inorganic mulches, and fences constructed of nonflammable materials create fuel breaks. Fuel breaks are a key feature in every firescape design. Water features can also be fuel breaks. Remember that 30 foot bubble you couldn’t plant evergreen trees in? Fill it up with succulents, well irrigated perennials, gravel mulches, green lawns, and gorgeous patios and you will be set.

Use these fire safety bubble principles in your firescape design:

  • Create a minimum 30-foot defensible space around structures (larger if there is a slope).
  • Remove dead vegetation.
  • Create “islands” of plants with space between.
  • Create separation between layers of vegetation, eliminating the fuel “ladder.”
  • Keep the landscape green and low growing — that is, “lean, clean, and green.”

Post written with info from:
JoAnne Skelly, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, Carson City, NV

Leave a Reply