Fire-wise landscaping: Protect your home this wildfire season by creating defensible space
June 29, 2018
Recent rains across Colorado have provided a much-needed respite from the heat, but this wildfire season is still undeniably well underway. Wildfires such as the 416 fire in Durango are still burning, showing that more than forestlands and outlying areas are in danger.
As cities and towns expand, they border more natural open spaces, exposing an increasing number of suburban properties to the danger of fast-moving wildfire. With this in mind, a growing number of Coloradans need to know how landscaping can help protect their homes.
Over the years, Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, the professional trade organization for landscape companies statewide, has collected information from foresters, landscape companies and universities to help property owners become more firewise with their landscapes. Listed below are important steps homeowners in threatened areas should consider.
• Avoid placing plants too close together: Spacing plants apart from one another keeps fire from traveling between them or "climbing" up smaller bushes into the more flammable branches of nearby trees.
• Remove flammable debris: Dead trees, shrubs and small plants growing close to or underneath larger trees will fuel a fire, and they should be removed. Keep gutters clean, removing dead leaves and pine needles and make sure plants are well-watered, as dry plants will ignite. Mow natural grasses and weeds to 6 inches or shorter within 30 feet of structures to prevent flames from traveling across a yard.
• Replace flammable landscaping with fire-resistant plants and mulch.
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Incorporating perennials instead of low-moisture shrubs and using gravel instead of bark mulch can provide better fire barriers around a home. Select flowers and herbaceous plants such as Corsican violet, lavender and hardy geranium that retain more moisture and are not so quick to ignite.
Avoid trees and shrubs that contain flammable resin. Instead, select shrubs such as Oregon grape holly and true mountain mahogany and tree varieties such as aspen, crabapple and lilac.
In general, fire-resistant plants are high in moisture, have fewer leaves or needles, stay close to the ground and don't require significant pruning and re-seed following a fire. Pavers, concrete and brick are best choices for patios and sidewalks.
"The No. 1 cause of structure losses is attributed to embers launched a quarter- to half-mile ahead of a fire," said former Colorado forester Keith Worley in "Plant Firewise Landscapes to Fight Wildfire." His article goes on to explain that "during larger wildfires, embers (often called firebrands) can be carried more than a mile away from the wildfire. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of homes are lost to embers."
This means that planting and maintaining a "defensible space" of landscape that is more difficult to ignite, especially within 15 feet of the house, can offer significant fire protection.
This column was submitted by the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado. Learn more at alcc.com.