Firewise Landscaping Practices

Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Landscaping around home according to firewise princples.

Homeowners value landscapes for the natural beauty, privacy, shade, and recreation they offer and frequently select properties that include or are near woodlands. One of the risks of properties adjoined to natural areas, however, is that they can be more vulnerable to wildfires.

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Basic preparedness measures are an important step in better protecting your home and property. It is an important consideration in areas where sufficient firefighting resources may not be readily available to respond to an emergency. To be aware of the potential occurrence of wildfire, the Nebraska Forest Service recommends utilizing the Firewise model. This means homeowners are encouraged to create at least a 100 foot Defensible Space Zone around homes and structures.

This Defensible Space Zone allows for reduced fire intensity near homes and structures, allowing firefighters to safely implement fire protection measures in the area. Remember, firefighters are trained to engage in structural protection only when their personal safety can be assured.

Structure Zones

Infographic on defensible space zones
The Defensible Space Zones are immediate, intermedia, and extended. In total, these three zones create a 100' buffer around your home.

In fire-prone areas, property owners can take measures to further minimize the risk of wildfire damage by creating “defensible spaces” with their landscaping. While no plant species is entirely fireproof, some species are more fire-resistant than others. The following information can help property owners select more fire-resistant plant materials based on the targeted defensible zone.

  • Carefully select and place plant material in the correct zones.
  • Combustible materials near structures can be the cause for your house to catch fire.
  • Evergreen trees such as cedar and pine tend to catch embers and quickly burn.
  • Deciduous trees such as oak and elm have less fuel to burn.
  • Deciduous trees could be placed closer to structures than evergreens.

What Could You Plant?

Map of firewise zones
Landscaping in Zones
Immediate | 0-5’Intermediate | 5-30’Extended | 30-100’
3’ rock barrier Irrigated turf or buffalo grass Irrigated turf or buffalo grass
Irrigated turf Perennial flowers Deciduous shrubs
Perennial flowers Deciduous shrubs Oak, elm, catalpa, honeylocust
Deciduous shrubs Oak, elm, catalpa, honeylocust Pine, spruce, concolor fir, juniper

Create a Defensible Space Zone

Immediate Zone 1: 0-5 feet

From your home to 5’ from the foundation (including decks, fences, and other attached structures), keep fuels away from the foundation of your house. Clear all debris (including firewood) and remove all other flammable material out of the Defensible Zone. Remove plants containing resins, oils, and waxes.  Do not forget to clean gutters and keep your roof clear of debris.

Intermediate Zone 2: 5-30 feet

From 5’ to 30 feet around your home and structures, create an area with a lower risk of ignition. Remove all flammable vegetation and any dead or dying plants within 30 feet of each building or structure. It is acceptable to keep single trees or other vegetation that are trimmed of all dead and dying foliage and are well pruned and maintained. Green grass and vegetation that is low to the ground are acceptable in this area. Remove branches from trees that overhang your roof. 

Extended Zone: 30-100 feet

The goal in this zone is not to eliminate fire but to interrupt the fire’s path and keep flames small and on the ground (Figure 7). Remove loose surface litter so it does not exceed a depth of three inches. Surface litter consists of fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones, pods, small branches, etc. All logs and stumps should be removed unless they are embedded in the soil. If the embedded log is kept, remove nearby vegetation.

Ideally, grass should not exceed four inches in height. Take care to stabilize soil in which case grasses and forbs may reach a height of 18 inches. Clear shrubs so that fire cannot spread from one shrub to another or from the ground to the crown of trees. 

Low branches create “ladders” that can carry fire from the ground to the tops of trees. Prune tree limbs so that the vertical distance from the top of the ground vegetation (grasses and shrub) to the lowest tree limb is three times the height of the ground vegetation. Conifer trees and other vegetation can be pruned to 50% of the total tree height or up to 16’.