Growing in occurrence, size and concern, California wildfires are heating up for the summer. Paired with one of the driest “wet” seasons we’ve had on the Central Coast in years, the threat of flames roar high and wide as we make our way into the thick of 2021.  We’re finding that wildfire-prone areas are expanding past rural locations and can quickly spread into city limits. This growing susceptibility increases everyone’s responsibility to prepare and maintain their property for fire safety.  CalFire has already fought hard to extinguish over 3,400 wildfires that have burned around 19,000 acres this year, and its just the start. They are predicting an ever heavier fire season for 2021. With community focus shifting from lockdown to summer travel, it’s important to prepare your property now.

Fire-safe landscapes are not just about upkeep, it’s an entire design, build and maintenance mindset for homes and businesses in high-risk areas. Protect your home and community by developing and maintaining the landscaping on your property with these safety regulations.

Creating a defensible space

To slow down or stop the spread of a fire reaching your home, a buffer needs to be put in place. This means deliberately clearing out the dead vegetation that surrounds your building, as well as consciously designing the layout. In accordance with state law, 100 feet of defensible spacing is required for all structures and homes. As explained by Cal Fire (readyforwildfire.org/prepare-for-wildfire/get-ready/defensible-space/) the design of this defense is made up of several zones.

Zone 0: With the passing of Assembly Bill 3074 in 2020, a “Zone 0” was created which will require the board of forestry and fire prevention to create new regulation around a “no ember zone” which is within 0-5’ of any structure or home by 2023. The good news is there is already a lot of information on this Zone that we can use to be proactive in our fight for fire prevention. Although this is not yet required by law, science has shown this Zone to be critical when defending a home against wildfire.

Zone 1: 30 feet of “Lean, Clean & Green.” This first perimeter of defense includes keeping tree branches 10 feet apart, removing dry needles and leaves from your roof, rain gutters or yard, and clearing out all dead weeds, grass or plants. Wood piles should also be relocated out of Zone 1 and into Zone 2. It’s also important to remove any trees or branches that are within 5’ of your structure to prevent the fire from easily jumping to your house or building.

Zone 2: 30-100 feet of “Reduced Fuel.” The second zone requires both horizontal and vertical spacing between grass, trees and shrubs. Grass should also be mowed or cut down to a maximum 4-inch height. Prevent a vertical “fire ladder” by ensuring all large trees have a 6-foot clearance of plants below. When mapping out plant and tree horizontal spaces, note that the size of the plants and the steepness of the slope will also determine the distance required between them.

Fire-Resistant Plants & Landscaping

In addition to upkeeping your land with fire-safe protocols, choose specific materials and plants that are more resistant to fueling fire. No plant is fireproof, but certain types that retain moisture and grow close to the ground are safer options. A bonus is several of these plants can also be drought tolerant, so you’ll be saving water as well. Strategic placement and spacing is important to consider; the further away from each other, the better. Construct walls, decks and patios in a way that will create a line of resistance to fire. These seemingly small landscaping changes can make a big difference in your home’s battle against deadly flames. If you can build walls out of concrete stone or metal and protect the underside of all decks with metal screening to prevent embers from blowing under.

We live in one of the most fire susceptible communities in the Golden State and educating ourselves and our fellow neighbors on preventative measures is now more imperative than ever. Achieving a landscape that is both fire retardant and dazzling in appearance is possible.

The most important part of fire-safe landscaping is being cognizant of your current situation and taking decisive action to improve it. If you need help complying with defensible space standards or installing a landscape that promotes fire safety, reach out to Cal Fire, your local landscaping company, a landscape architect or consulting arborist.

Check back next week for Preparing for Wildfire Season, Part Two which will dive deeper into alternative options you can use in your landscaping and adaptations you can make around the zones of your home to increase fire-safety.