Wildfires are nature’s way of taking care of itself. It clears out old underbrush, dead trees, overly dry wood and in some cases acts as a proponent of new growth by allowing the release of seeds from pinecones and the clearing of tree canopy to allow sunlight to reach wildflower areas beneath. Vic and I visited Yellowstone National Park in the mid 1980’s and again in 1989, just a year after the massive fires there. By the following year there was an abundance of wildflowers covering the forest floor. But wildfires have become increasingly more frightening as man intrudes into forested lands.
Once you have prepared your home and made it as defensible as possible against wildfire, the next most important thing you can do is to maintain it to keep it safe. Many of these ideas are simple things that should be done on an annual basis anyway. You can also check with your local fire department for a home fire-safety checklist.
Begin inside your home. Check smoke detectors regularly, replacing batteries annually, if needed. An easy way to remember is to do it each year on your birthday or other holiday. Be sure that you have fire extinguishers in your home that are easily accessible and that everyone knows where they are and how to operate them. Be sure that all family members know escape routes in case of emergency.
Outside of your home there are many things you can do to prepare in the event of a wildfire. If your roof is wooden in any form, consider changing it to something more fire resistant. Check eaves and gutters to be sure that they are free of leaves, twigs and other material. If possible, prune trees that hang over your roof back so that they are no longer a threat.
If possible, widen your driveway to allow for adequate space for fire and other emergency equipment to work if necessary. Be sure that your house number is on your mailbox and your home so it can be easily identified. If you store your garden equipment in your garage or shed, be sure that the rakes, shovels, axes and garden hoses are easily reached in case they are needed.
In your yard, be aware of the defensible space zones. As your landscape changes from year to year due to growth and sometimes dying or removal of plant material, be sure that you change your plan as well.
Remove any old or dead material on a regular basis. This reduces fuel that would be available in case of a fire. This is especially important in the spring before the fire season begins as many times you will have plants or trees that have been damaged by snow, frost, wind or insects and diseases over the winter. Spring pruning is especially important as it will not only remove the dead material, but will also result in healthier plants during the growing season.
When planting annuals each year, adding new perennials or trees and shrubs, be sure to choose those which are best suited to fireproofing your landscape. Choosing things like yucca, and cactus that are succulent and will hold and store water and therefore be less resistant to burning quickly is a good idea. Perennial succulents like ice plant that never really dry out, even in the dead of winter, may warrant consideration in your gardens as well.
If you are concerned by having leaves around your beds in the fall or don’t have time to get them raked up each year, choose deciduous trees like aspens whose small leaves tend to blow away and don’t need to be raked. Evergreens might seem like a better choice but the resin in those trees are highly flammable. Perhaps the most important thing you can do to protect the area directly around your home is to keep the plant material well watered throughout the growing season, especially if it is a particularly dry year. Your local garden center can offer advice on the best choices are for your particular situation.
Keep grass cut to the recommended length and keep it cut shortest in closest to your home. In the outer boundaries of your zones, it should be no more than 6″ high. Remove annuals and perennials as they dry out, die or go to seed. Be sure to keep any raked up debris removed on a regular basis from your yard so as not to let it accumulate and be a potential risk for fire.
Do your indoor and outdoor maintenance on a regular basis to keep your home’s physical condition and appearance in top shape. A few simple steps can lead to a fire-wise landscape and your peace of mind.