Do you live in a home or community that is tucked into the woods? You could be at risk from wildland fires! Fortunately, taking proactive measures now can minimize the chances that your home will burn.
The National Fire Protection Association developed the Firewise USA © program, in conjunction with universities, Federal, and local agencies to assist homeowners and communities in increasing awareness of the danger from wildland fires.
We all have a role to play—start by thinking about firewise landscaping for your home and community!
Your home: Home Ignition Zones (HIZ)
In the late 1990s, following breakthrough experimental research into how radiant heat ignites homes, retired USDA Forest Service fire scientist Jack Cohen developed the concept of three zones that affect whether or not a wildfire will ignite your home.
Immediate zone: the area up to five feet from the furthest attached exterior point of the home. This zone is the most vulnerable to embers from surrounding wildfire and requires immediate action. To minimize the chances of a wildland fire threatening your home, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in its “Preparing Homes for Wildfire” brochure (link below), recommends taking the following steps:
- Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles that could catch embers.
- Replace or repair any loose or missing shingles or roof tiles to prevent ember penetration.
- Reduce embers that could pass through vents in the eaves by installing 1/8-inch metal mesh screening.
- Clean debris from exterior attic vents and install 1/8-inch metal mesh screening to reduce embers.
- Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens and any broken windows. Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.
- Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors, such as mulch, flammable plants, leaves, and firewood piles, basically anything that can burn.
- Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches.
Intermediate zone: the area 5 to 30 feet from the furthest exterior point of the home. Landscaping and hardscaping in this zone can help decrease wildfire risk as it moves toward your home. The NFPA brochure includes the following:
- Clear vegetation from under large stationary propane tanks.
- Create fuel breaks with driveways, walkways/paths, patios, and decks.
- Keep lawns and native grasses mowed to a height of four inches.
- Remove ladder fuels (vegetation under trees) so a surface fire cannot reach the crowns.
- Prune trees up to six to ten feet from the ground; for shorter trees do not exceed 1/3 of the overall tree height.
- Space trees to have a minimum of eighteen feet between crowns with the distance increasing with the percentage of slope.
- Tree placement should be planned to ensure the mature canopy is no closer than ten feet to the edge of the structure.
- Tree and shrubs in this zone should be limited to small clusters of a few each to break up the continuity of the vegetation across the landscape.
Extended zone: in the area from 30 up to 200 feet away from your home you can interrupt a wildfire’s path, keep flames smaller, and on the ground. In this zone, the NFPA suggests:
- Dispose of heavy accumulations of ground litter/debris.
- Remove dead plant and tree material.
- Remove small conifers growing between mature trees.
- Remove vegetation adjacent to storage sheds or other outbuildings within this area.
- Trees 30 to 60 feet from the home should have at least 12 feet between canopy tops
- Trees 60 to 100 feet from the home should have at least 6 feet between the canopy tops.
Your landscape choices:
You may notice that these firewise guidelines are all about removing things from your landscape! Fortunately, there is also good information about how to select, place, and maintain plants to make your yard more firewise—see “Firewise Landscaping in North Carolina” link.
The Firewise USA © program offers help in making your community firewise (see link below), and has already designated these Buncombe County communities as “Firewise”:
- Bear Track-Rock Creek Hills POA, Black Mountain
- The Settings of Black Mountain, Black Mountain
- Summerhaven, Swannanoa
Take action now to have yours added to the list!
Original Article by Glenn Palmer Buncombe County Extension Master GardenerSM Emeritus
Updated by Bob Wardwell Buncombe County Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer
For more information:
Firewise USA: https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Fire-causes-and-risks/Wildfire/Firewise-USA
“Preparing homes for wildfire” brochure:
How to become a “Firewise” community: