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Fire-Smart Landscaping Guide.

August 10, 2021

Fire Smart Landscaping Guide

Every year the threat of wildfires grows in the US. California had its top six of twenty largest-ever fires in 2020 alone. Portions of the United States that include the southwest, pacific northwest, and parts of the midwest have all seen the devastation wildfires cause. Trends show that wildfires are only going to become an increasing problem for many US homeowners. There is no way to fireproof a property 100%, but landscapers can take steps to help create a fire-smart landscape for their clients.

What is fire-smart landscaping?

Fire-smart landscaping is the process of using terrain, pathways, and vegetation to create zones of protection that can slow or prevent the spread of wildfire—potentially saving a home or even lives. Does this mean that residents need to remove or destroy their existing landscape design? Not at all. Fire-smart landscaping can still be creative, exciting, and beautiful for both you and your client. It might take more planning and time than your regular landscaping projects, but the goal is not to build quickly. The goal is to create a safe design for your clients.

Source: The Oregonian

Why landscapers should promote fire-smart landscaping

Your customers look to you for expert advice. They trust you enough to build and maintain their yards. Promoting fire-smart landscaping to your clients shows them that you not only care about their property, you’re also up-to-date on best practices. For those of you in “fire country,” it’s even more important to create a safe landscape. Even if a customer declines to go with a fire-smart plan, promoting yourself as a knowledgeable resource will only increase your reputation as a landscaping leader in your community.

How to plan a fire-smart landscape

Planning a defensible fire-smart space involves creating three zones. Each zone serves a different purpose but all three work together to slow the spread of flames and reduce the amount of highly flammable material near a client’s home.

Zone 0: 0 to 5 feet from the home

The goal of zone 0 is to create a fire-resistant area to prevent flames from touching the building. Make sure there are no branches near a home’s chimney, no climbing plants on the outside of a house, gutters are clear of leaves, and there aren’t any combustible items attached to the house. Combustible items include woodpiles, wooden gates, fences, or any other flammable resources. 

Experts recommend placing vegetables, succulents, seasonal flowers, or grasses in zone 0. Maintenance in this zone is essential. In the event of a fire, dry leaves, pine needles, wood chips, and piles of flammable materials can damage the home.  

Source: This Old House

Zone 1: 5 to 30 feet from the home

This zone serves the purpose of reducing the amount of heat damage in a fire. This zone should have low and well-irrigated shrubs and plants. There should also be ample pathways separating the yard into sections. A popular option is to add brick or gravel pathways. Adding fire-resistant paths has two functions: 1) It slows the spread of flames from one section to another 2) pathways make it easier for first-responders to reach your home to fight a fire or save anyone inside the building. This zone also benefits from adding water features, such as small pools or fountains, or adding patios instead of wooden decks.  

Zone 2: 30 feet to edge of the property

Zone 2 represents the first line of defense. Plants in this zone shouldn’t require irrigation. It’s helpful to have native trees and other native plants that require little water to survive. On sloped properties, it is beneficial to use high retaining walls to reduce the steepness of a yard. Having ample space between plants and trees is also important to help slow the fire from reaching a house.    

General tips for fire-smart landscaping

  • Choose plants that are native to dry environments
  • Keep grasses cut around one inch 
  • Use non-combustible mulch closer to the home
  • The steeper the slope of a property, the easier fire can spread
  • Keep vegetation spaced
  • Educate the customer on their best options
  • Encourage customers to receive regular maintenance on their yard 

  

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