Is Defensible Space Your Responsibility?

Yes! And, your pre-fire actions can determine whether your home survives the disaster, or not.

The two main steps in protecting your home from a potential wildfire are, understanding what defensible space is and taking responsibility for implementing a prevention plan. From the University of Nevada’s “Living With Fire” guide, here is a clear definition:

         “Defensible space is the area between a house and an oncoming wildfire

           where the vegetation has been modified to reduce the wildfire threat

           and to provide an opportunity for firefighters to effectively defend the

           house. Sometimes, a defensible space is simply a homeowner’s properly

          maintained backyard.”

A common misconception is that every home will have its own personal firefighter, standing in the yard with a full stream of water blasting the house and keeping the flames at bay. Not true! During most wildfires, there aren’t enough firefighting resources to protect every home. The firefighters will quickly assess which homes they can safely and effectively protect. You want your home at the top of that plan.

Realizing that you, as the homeowner, are the first line of defense in protecting your property; take these seven steps of preventative action:

  1. Determine a measure of effective defensible space: The recommended distance is not the same for every home. It depends on the dominant vegetation and slope. Many fire prevention sites have charts and calculators to help you determine the space you need to clear for your home. Here is a link to one calculator: http://tahoe.livingwithfire.info/beforethefire/defensiblespacezone/index.pp  Once the distance is known, mark off a Defensible Space Zone with strips of cloth or flagging.
  1. Remove all dead vegetation: This includes dried grass, weeds and flowers. Certainly the fallen trees, but also standing trees that are dying. Don’t forget dead tree branches and dried ornamental shrubs. And, keep fallen leaves and needles from within 5 feet of the house continually cleaned up during fire season.
  2. Separate the trees and shrubs: Dense stands of trees and shrubs are wildfire tinder! Thin and create space between the trees and shrubs to reduce the fire threat.
  3. Remove ladder fuels: Lower growing plants that can carry fire to taller plants and trees are referred to as “ladder fuel.” Remove low plants and tree branches that are one-third of the total tree height.
  4. From 5 feet to 30 feet, extending from your house, think, “Lean, Clean & Green”: After removing any dead material make certain that the vegetation near your home is small, separated and healthy. Be sure your irrigation system is maintained and the plants are watered regularly and sufficiently. Any wood and bark mulches should be separated by non-combustible materials. Use gravel, rock, green grass or clover ground cover.
  5. Create a 5-foot base of Noncombustible Area around your house: This area is the most important during a wildfire. The base should include only noncombustible landscape materials and ignition resistant, low volume plants. Don’t landscape with timbers or boards. Instead, use brick, gravel or rocks. Also, do not plant shrubs under first floor windows or in front of foundation vents.
  6. Maintain your Defensible Space Zone: Your home’s landscape is always fluid. As the season’s change, keeping up with your Defensible Space is a constant activity. Create a calendar reminder to go over the 6 steps above and reevaluate at the beginning of every fire season.

This was just a brief overview of your defensible space responsibility as a homeowner. Joe Benigno’s Tree Service can create a customized plan to give you peace of mind where landscaping and fire safety intersect. Call us today at for an estimate.

For more detailed information on defensible space, you visit the TRPA @ www.trpa.org

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