Preparing Your Property for Wildfire Season

firewise comparison photos
TOP: Residents of the Forest Ridge subdivision, south of Wenatchee, used Firewise-recommended techniques to create a natural, fire-resistant landscape to keep any wildfires burning slowly and low to the ground.
BOTTOM: An untended overgrowth of grasses, brush and small trees along this road (also near Wenatchee) could help a wildfire grow larger and spread quickly. Photos: DNR.

Wise property owners across the nation know that it pays to be prepared for the upcoming seasons; spring, summer, fall and winter all have their own specific lists of chores to be completed beforehand to help make the impending season go smoothly. When we live near the woods, however, we need to prepare for a fifth season… wildfire season.

Wildfire is and always has been a natural and important part of our environment in the Northwest. So, why should we worry about wildfire? Years and years of suppressing fire has produced fuel conditions within our forests that have the potential to create unnaturally severe fires. And, many of us have built our homes and businesses within this fire-prone environment without any regard to wildfire.

House spared from wildfire
Smart landscaping was among the several Firewise-recommended strategies that these homeowners used to spare their home from a wildfire last year. Photo: DNR.

Forest experts tell us that it is not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when” wildfires occur. And when they do, the likelihood of loss of human life and personal property becomes greater every year. So, here are a few ideas to follow every summer to create a defensible space around your home so that, should a wildfire threaten, firefighters can effectively defend your property.

On or adjacent to your home:

    √ Examine roof, gutters and decks for debris and remove it.
    √ Remove dead tree branches overhanging your roof.
    √ If you are storing firewood next to your home remove it to a safer location at least 30 feet away.
    √ Enclose the undersides of balconies and above-ground decks with fire resistant materials so they can’t trap flying embers.
    √ Check all vents and other nooks and crannies that may also trap flying embers and screen them off with aluminum screening or some other non-combustible material.
    √ Remove all branches and vegetation touching your home or its foundation and provide a protective border of crushed rock, flagstone, or some other non-combustible material at least 18” wide.

Within 30 feet of your home (“Lean, Clean and Green”):

    √ Remove all standing dead trees.
    √ Remove all tree limbs within 15 feet of your chimney or power lines.
    √ Rake up last year’s fallen tree and shrub leaves, needles, and cones.
    √ Pick up all fallen dead branches from trees.
    √ Prune out all dead branches on shrubs.
    √ Remove dead leaves and other debris from inside shrubs.
    √ Cut or mow down all grasses and perennials that have bloomed and are now beginning to dry out.
    √ Trim all trees so there are no branches lower than 9-10 feet. Branches lower than this act as “ladder fuels” and allow surface fire to climb into the tops of trees.
    √ Prune or remove shrubs that form ladder fuels under trees.
    √ Thin trees and shrubs or create space between “thickets” to prevent fire spread. These islands of vegetation surrounded by lawn are attractive and provide privacy and wildlife habitat, yet discourage wildfire by breaking up paths of fuel to your home.
    √ Remove all volatile plants, such as juniper bushes and other small evergreens, and replace them with fire-resistant species.
    √ Keep all landscape plants and lawns healthy and green at all times during the fire season.

Within 100 feet of your home

    √ Clean out dry underbrush and thin trees and shrubs. (You may wish to save downed trees and upright snags in safe areas to provide habitat for birds, beneficial insects, and other wildlife.)
    √ Remove all ladder fuels
    √ Make sure your house numbers are posted on your driveway and easily visible day and night so emergency personnel can find you.
    √ Clear and trim your driveway so emergency vehicles can enter your property.

General planning in case your home is threatened by wildfire:

    √ Make a check list of things to do and equipment to have on hand.
    √ Put together an emergency kit with necessary items in case you need to quickly evacuate.
    √ Plan an escape route out of your neighborhood.
    √ Discuss and practice these plans with all members of your family.

Of course, nothing or no one can ensure that your home will survive a wildfire but this checklist will put you on the right path to develop a defensible space for your property.

For further details about how you can prepare for wildfire, check the following resources:

By Dixie Chichester, WSU Master Gardener, Pend Oreille County