Are the communities you manage protected from the devastating risk of fire?

KNOW THE LAW
“Persons owning, leasing, controlling, operating or maintaining buildings or structures requiring defensible spaces are responsible for modifying or removing nonfire-resistive vegetation on the property owned, leased or controlled by said person.”
International Wildland-Urban Interface Code, 603.2 Fuel modification


Drought & Defensible Space

Figure 603.2

Figure 603.2 (enlarge)

WHAT IS DEFENSIBLE SPACE?

Defensible Space is the area around a structure where vegetation has been modified to reduce the fire threat. The size of your defensible space will vary, depending upon property size, location, and topography. Sometimes a defensible space is simply a homeowner’s properly maintained backyard. Yet another property owner might need to provide over 200 feet of defensible space around their property.

Start the Spring with Fire Safety

There are a few simple things homeowners can do to help protect their property before a wildfire.


 

SIGNATURE’S DEFENSIBLE SPACE TEAM WILL ALWAYS:

  • Reduce vegetation by pruning, hand crews or mowing
    Space between plants & trees removes the continuous fuel bed that might otherwise exist
  • Remove dead & flammable vegetation from slopes
    Debris, branch piles, & various materials add up to become fuel for even the smallest sparks.
  • Replace flammable vegetation with less hazardous choices
    Shorter plants are better than taller plants & nonwoody plants are better than evergreens or junipers.

defensible-guidelines

Defensible Space Specialists

Signature Landscapes is a leading defensible space landscape contractor for the Truckee Meadows, Carson and Tahoe/Truckee region. This means our expertise and manpower can quickly and effectively help to provide our firefighters with a safe place from which to defend your home from an approaching wildland fire.  Homes with adequate defensible space are more likely to survive a wildland fire, even without firefighter assistance.

Defensible Space
Defined as the area around your home where the vegetation has been modified to reduce the fire threat.  The size of a home’s defensible space varies, depending upon property size, location, and topography.  Sometimes a defensible space is simply a homeowner’s properly maintained backyard.  Yet another property owner might need to provide over 200 feet of defensible space around their property. 

Call Signature Landscapes today and take steps to create a fire-safe landscape for your home as well as your neighborhood. It takes a community to keep everyone’s home safe from the devastation of fire.

Local fire departments would like to encourage you to create a defensible space around your home.  You can do this by implementing the three “R’s” into your landscaping design: Removal, Reduction, and Replacement.

Start the Spring with Fire Safety

There are a few simple things homeowners can do to help protect their property before a wildfire.


  • Remove dead or flammable vegetation. 
  • Reduce vegetation by pruning or mowing.  Providing space between plants and trees removes the continuous fuel bed that might otherwise exist throughout your yard.  The more continuous and dense the vegetation in your yard, the greater the wildfire threat to your home. 
  • Replace flammable vegetation with less hazardous choices.  Shorter plants are better than taller plants, and non-woody plants are better than evergreens or junipers.

“Shifting our thinking now is critical given some disturbing projections from the nation’s wildfire experts:”

  • Fire seasons will become longer, more intense, and wildfires will be more difficult to control.
  • The number of people living in or adjacent to high fire-hazard areas will increase.
  • Our firefighting resources will not keep pace with the increased wildfire threat.

Ed Smith, Natural Resource Specialist University of Nevada Cooperative Extension

 

Download the following PDF booklets to learn how you can create a landscape in fire-prone areas:

Fire-Safe Landscape Design Explained

A fire-safe landscape is not a barren landscape.

“When a wildfire comes through your neighborhood, could your house survive on its own?” A dramatic question, but one we need to consider when living in an environment where wildfire is a common occurrence. “fire-safe landscape design” is a landscape that reduces house and property vulnerability to wildfire. The goal is to develop a landscape with a design and choice of plants that offers the best fire protection and enhances the property. The ideal is to surround the house with things that are less likely to burn. It is imperative when building homes in wildfire-prone areas that fire safety be a major factor in landscape design. Appropriate manipulation of the landscape can make a significant contribution toward wildfire survival.

LINK:LivingWithFire.info: What Can Homeowners Do Right Now?

A fire-safe landscape design integrates traditional landscape functions and a design that reduces the threat from wildfire. It does not need to look much different than your traditional landscape. In addition to meeting a homeowner’s aesthetic desires and functional needs, such as entertaining, playing, storage and erosion control, a fire-safe landscape also includes vegetation modification techniques, planting for fire safety, defensible space principles and use of fire safety zones.

FireSafe Demonstration Garden

Through proper plant selection, placement and maintenance, we can diminish the possibility of ignition, lower fire intensity, and reduce how quickly survivability. In fire-safe landscape design, plant selection is primarily determined by a plant’s ability to reduce the wildfire threat. Other considerations may be important, such as appearance, ability to hold the soil in place, and wildlife habitat value. The traditional foundation planting of junipers is not a viable solution in a fire-safe landscape. Minimize use of evergreen shrubs and trees within 30 feet of a structure, because junipers, other conifers and broadleaf evergreens contain oils, resins, and waxes that makes these plants burn with great intensity.

Use ornamental grasses and berries sparingly because they also can be highly flammable. Choose “firewise” plants. These are plants with a high moisture content. They are low growing. Their stems and leaves are not resinous, oily or waxy. Deciduous trees are generally more fire resistant than evergreens because they have a higher moisture content when in leaf, but a lower fuel volume when dormant.

Simple diagram showing plants and vegetation for a fire-safe home

Placement and maintenance of trees and shrubs is as important as actual plant selection. When planning tree placement in the landscape, remember their size at maturity. Keep tree limbs at least 15 feet from chimneys, power lines and structures. Specimen trees can be used near a structure if pruned properly and well irrigated.

A fire-safe landscape uses driveways, lawns, walkways, patios, parking areas, areas with inorganic mulches, and fences constructed of nonflammable materials such as rock, brick, or cement to reduce fuel loads and create fuel breaks. Fuel breaks are a vital component in every fire-safe landscape design. Water features, pools, ponds or streams can be used also as fuel breaks. Areas where wildland vegetation has been thinned or replaced with less flammable plants are the traditional fuel break. Remember, while bare ground is an effective fuel break, it is not generally recommended as a fire-safe landscape element due to aesthetic, soil erosion, and other concerns.

A home located on a brushy site above a south or west facing slope will require more extensive wildfire safety landscape planning than a house situation on a flat lot with little vegetation around it. Boulders and rocks become fire retardant elements in a design. Whether or not a site can be irrigated will greatly influence location of hardscape (concrete, asphalt, wood decks, etc.), plant selection and placement. Prevailing winds, seasonal weather, local fire history, and characteristics of native vegetation surrounding the site are additional important considerations.

The 30 feet closest to a structure will be the highest water use area in the firewise landscape. This is an area where highly flammable fuels are kept to a minimum and plants are kept green throughout the fire season. Use well-irrigated perennials here. Another choice is low growing or non-woody deciduous plants. Lawn is soothing visually, and is also practical as a wildfire safety feature. But extensive areas of turfgrass may not be right for everyone. Some good alternatives include clover, groundcovers, and conservation grasses that are kept green during the fire season through irrigation. Rock mulches are good choices. Patios, masonry and rock planters are excellent fuel breaks and increase wildfire safety. Be creative with boulders, riprap, dry streambeds and sculptural inorganic elements. When designing a landscape for fire safety remember, less is better. Simplify visual lines and groupings. A firewise landscape lets plants and garden elements reveal their innate beauty by leaving space between plants and groups of plants. In fire-safe landscape design, the open spaces are more important than the plants.

Ten Questions About Defensible Space

TEN FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT DEFENSIBLE SPACE

A special post from local Living With Fire founder and fire prevention specialist,
Ed Smith, Natural Resource Management Specialist for UNCE

As northern Nevada communities grow, the likelihood of homes being threatened by a wildfire also grows. A critical factor in determining whether or not a home will survive a wildfire is the type, amount, and maintenance of vegetation surrounding the house. In the 1980’s, the term “defensible space” was coined to describe vegetation management practices aimed at reducing the wildfire threat to homes. This fact sheet addresses some of the frequently asked questions regarding defensible space.

1) WHAT IS DEFENSIBLE SPACE?
Defensible space refers to that area between a house and an oncoming wildfire where the vegetation has been modified to reduce the wildfire threat and which provides an opportunity for fire fighters to effectively defend the house. Oftentimes, a defensible space is simply a homeowner’s backyard.

2) WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN VEGETATION AND WILDFIRE THREAT?
Many people do not view the plants growing on their property as a threat. But in terms of wildfire, what is growing adjacent to their homes can have considerable influence upon the survivability of their houses. All vegetation, including naturally occurring native plants and ornamental plants in the residential landscape, is potential wildfire fuel. If the vegetation is properly modified and maintained, a wildfire can be slowed down, the length of flames shortened, and the amount of heat reduced, all of which contribute to a house surviving a wildfire.

3) WHY IS DEFENSIBLE SPACE NECESSARY? WON’T THE FIRE DEPARTMENT PROTECT MY HOUSE?
Some individuals incorrectly assume that a fire truck will be parked in their driveway and fire fighters will be actively defending their homes if a wildfire approaches. During a major wildfire, it is unlikely that there will be fire fighting resources available to defend every home. Even with adequate resources, some wildfires may be so intense that there may be little that fire fighters can do to prevent a house from burning. The key is to reduce fire intensity as a wildfire nears the house. This can be accomplished by reducing the amount of flammable vegetation surrounding a home.

4) DOES DEFENSIBLE SPACE REQUIRE A LOT OF BARE GROUND AROUND A HOUSE?
No. While bare ground would certainly provide an effective defensible space, it is not necessary and looks bad. Bare ground may also cause soil to erode. Many homes have yards that are both effective defensible spaces and attractive landscapes with little or no bare ground.

5) DOES CREATING A DEFENSIBLE SPACE REQUIRE ANY SPECIAL SKILLS OR EQUIPMENT?
No. For the most part, creating a defensible space employs routine gardening and landscape maintenance practices such as pruning, mowing, weeding, plant removal, appropriate plant selection, and irrigation. The necessary equipment consists of common tools like a chain saw, pruning saw, pruning shears, loppers, weedeater, shovel, and a rake. A chipper, compost bin, or a large rented trash dumpster may be useful in disposing unwanted plant material. Annual maintenance will likely be required to retain an effective defensible space.

6) HOW BIG IS AN EFFECTIVE DEFENSIBLE SPACE?
Defensible space size is usually expressed as the distance from the house in which vegetation is managed to reduce the wildfire threat. The necessary distance for an effective defensible is not the same for everyone, but varies by slope and type of native vegetation growing near the house. An example of defensible space distances is presented on the back page of this publication. Contact your local fire marshal for suggested defensible space distances specific to your area. If your recommended distance exceeds your property boundaries, contact the adjacent property owner and try to work cooperatively on creating a defensible space. The effectiveness of defensible space increases when multiple property owners work together.

7) WHAT SHOULD I DO TO MAKE MY PROPERTY DEFENSIBLE?

Within the recommended defensible space distance, conduct the following activities:

  • Remove dead vegetation (i.e., dead trees and shrubs, dried grass and flowers, dead branches, fallen leaves, etc.).
  • Remove lower branches from mature trees to a height of eight feet from ground level. Also, remove small trees and shrubs growing under mature trees.
  • Remove tree branches within 15 feet of a chimney or stove pipe. Keep vegetation clear of power lines and decks.
  • Remove the majority of native shrubs and trees within 30 feet of the house. Retaining a few well maintained native shrubs and trees within the 30 feet is acceptable. Avoid leaving native trees in front of large windows and adjacent to decks.
  • Beyond 30 feet, remove native shrubs to provide a separation between shrubs of approximately three times the shrub height (i.e., if shrub height is 2 feet, then 3 x 2 feet = 6 feet separation). Thin mature native trees to provide a separation of at least 10 feet between tree crowns.
  • Selectively thin and maintain remaining native vegetation at a shorter height through pruning.

Selecting ornamental plants for use in the defensible space should emphasize:

  1. herbaceous plants (i.e., non woody plants such as turfgrass, perennial and annual flowers, etc.) over shrubs and trees.
  2. shorter growing plants over taller plants.
  3. deciduous plants over evergreens

8) DOES HAVING AN EFFECTIVE DEFENSIBLE SPACE MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Yes. Investigations of homes threatened by wildfire indicate that houses with an effective defensible space are much more likely to survive a wildfire. Furthermore, homes with both an effective defensible space and a nonflammable roof (e.g., composition shingles, tile, metal, etc.) are many more times likely to survive a wildfire than those without a defensible space and flammable roofs (i.e., wood shakes or shingles).

9) DOES HAVING A DEFENSIBLE SPACE GUARANTEE MY HOUSE WILL SURVIVE A WILDFIRE?
No. Under extreme conditions, almost any house can burn. But having a defensible space will significantly
improve the odds of your home surviving a wildfire.

10) WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE LIVING IN A HIGH WILDFIRE HAZARD AREA CREATE A DEFENSIBLE SPACE?
The specific reasons for not creating a defensible space are varied. Some individuals believe that “it won’t happen to me”. Others think the costs (i.e., time, money, effort, etc.) outweigh the benefits (i.e., improved protection for property). But some have failed to implement defensible space practices because of lack of knowledge or misconceptions.


Thank you to Ed Smith and Sonya Sistare For individuals wanting to learn more about defensible space, contact out YOUR LIVING WITH FIRE office or fire marshal.

Defensible space: Your first line of defense

Defensible Space Treatments

Defensible space treatments are an essential first line of defense for residential structures. The goal of the treatments is to significantly reduce or remove flammable vegetation within a prescribed distance from structures.

Defensible space reduces the fire intensity and improves firefighter and homeowner chances for successfully defending a structure against oncoming wildfire.

NOTE: This information is taken from the www.livingwithfire.info, an incredibly helpful tool for the community during this hot fire season. Please visit this link, send to your friends, and take efforts to learn more about how to make your property fire-safe this year.

 

Fire slowly moving in Mt. Rose corridor

Property Owner Recommendations

  • Remove, reduce, and replace vegetation to create defensible space around homes according to the guidelines in the Defensible Space Guidelines fact sheet.
    (Download the Defensible Space Guidelines fact sheet for Washoe County)
    This area should be kept:

    • Lean: There are only small amount of flammable vegetation.
    • Clean: There is no accumulation of dead vegetation or other flammable debris.
    • Green: Existing plants are healthy and green during the fire season.
  • Store firewood a minimum distance of thirty feet from structures.
  • Mow or remove brush growing against fences in the community. The minimum distance for clearance should be ten feet in grass and 25 feet in brush.
  • Enclose areas under wood decks and porches when possible or maintain these areas to be free of weeds and other flammable debris. Box in eves and cover ventilation openings with very fine metal wire mesh to prevent embers from entering the attic and crawl spaces.
  • Clear all vegetation and combustible materials around propane tanks for a minimum of ten feet.
  • Clear weeds and brush to a width of ten feet along both sides of the driveways.
  • Maintain a minimum clearance of thirty feet from the crown of trees that remain within the defensible space zone. Keep this area free of smaller trees, shrubs, and other ladder fuels.
  • Trim and remove tree branches a minimum of fifteen feet from the ground, but not more than one-third the tree height, to reduce ladder fuels on all deciduous and coniferous trees within the defensible space zone. Prune all dead and diseased branches.
  • Prune all tree branches to a minimum distance of fifteen feet from buildings, paying special attention around chimneys.
  • Mow grass within the defensible space zone to maintain a maximum height of four inches.
  • Thin sagebrush and other shrubs to a spacing between shrubs that is equal to twice the shrub height.
  • Immediately dispose of cleared vegetation when implementing defensible space treatments. This material dries quickly and poses a fire hazard if left on site.
  • Where possible, irrigate all trees and large shrubs that remain in close proximity to structures to increase their fire resiliency. This is especially important during drought conditions.
  • Maintain the defensible space as needed.
  • Replace wood shake roofs with fire resistant roofing materials.

 

Visit the LivingWithFire.info Learning Center

This LivingWithFire.info Learning Center includes a wide array of educational materials and links to other useful resources to help you learn how to reduce the wildfire threat to your family, home and community. Most of the materials were prepared by the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension faculty and have been peer reviewed to ensure relevance and accuracy. Topics range from pre-fire activities such as creating defensible space, to advice on safe evacuation practices, to what to do when returning home after a wildfire. These materials are available in written, interactive and video formats, with some available in Spanish, allowing you to use the format that works best for you.