Fire-Safe Landscaping: Create Defensible Space to Protect Your Home

Every homeowner fears fire. This year, which has been particularly dry in California and throughout the Southwestern United States, has been particularly worrisome, as drought conditions have escalated. Homeowners can help themselves, though, by taking a look at their landscaping and what’s in their yard, and trying to eliminate anything that could start a fire or provide fuel for one. There’s a lot you can do to create fire-safe landscaping around your house. The name of the game is “defensible space” – a 30-foot area around the home is standard rule of thumb; however, in California, a 100-foot space is now urged.




Here are some things you can do to create a Fire-Safe Landscaping defensible space:

  • Simple outdoor maintenance can help remove hazards. Be sure to get rid of all dead wood and brush around the house. Make sure to clean sticks and leaves from your roof and rain gutters. Keep your yard watered during the dry season.
  • Prune tree limbs that hang over your home and any outbuildings, such as barns or sheds. Tree limbs should also be trimmed 20 feet back from power lines and chimneys. Never plant trees near power lines.
  • If you have a lawn or grassy area, keep it watered and mowed. If you have water rationing in your area, keep the grass closest to the house irrigated.
  • Remove any dry, woody shrubs and plants near the house and replace them with those that retain water, such as succulents. Look for high-moisture, low-resin plants that grow low to the ground, and are green from May to October. Your local agricultural extension office or plant nursery will have a list of fire-safe plants available for your area.
  • Also, take out any trees that have a lot of resin or sap, which is flammable. For instance, conifers like pines and firs are generally very easy to catch on fire. Eucalyptus is also infamous for exploding into flaming chunks during wildfires.
  • Plan your landscaping so that there are no large masses of plants. This reduces potential fuel for fires, and also allows firefighters to more easily fight a fire by having space for their equipment.
  • Think about including lots of hardscape in your landscape plan – concrete, pavers, stone and gravel. Patios, stone walls and swimming pools can create an effective firebreak. Use fire-safe materials around plants, like crushed granite or pea gravel. Avoid using fir bark for mulch.
  • Use caution with yard tools and other items when it’s dry. Check with your local fire department for details, but some areas recommend no chainsaws or weed whacking during fire season, because a spark could jump from your tool and ignite grass or brush.
  • Also make sure you are cautious with barbecues, tiki torches, citronella candles and firepits during fire season. Use these items only in a fire-safe area, such as on a concrete patio, and keep a water bucket nearby. Remove anything that could catch on fire from the area before they’re lit.
  • Store firewood at least 30 feet away from structures, and also keep flammable liquids such as gasoline and paint thinner out of the house, perhaps in a metal shed.