Property risk management strategies do not end at the property line
Co-Authored: Tom Jeffery, Principal, Science and Analytics; Robert Kowalski, Principal, Science and Analytics
When it comes to wildfire risk management strategies for properties, there are two main tenants:
- Reduce the density of vegetation around your property.
- Harden your property against flames and embers.
Although simple, to effectively mitigate wildfire, homeowners must adhere to these two tenants across the various defensible space zones surrounding their property.
In our previous post on wildfire risk management strategies, we addressed the need to start at Zone 0 to create a completely noncombustible five-foot zone around the perimeter of your home. This first step is essential to creating a buffer against embers and small flames.
The next focus for wildfire mitigation is Zone 1. This zone encompasses the subsequent 5 to 30 feet surrounding a property. Like Zone 0, Zone 1 is known by several names, including the “Intermediate Zone” and the “Lean, Clean, and Green Zone.”
It is likely that Zone 1 encompasses parts of your neighbor’s property, so some jurisdictions end this zone at the property line. But wildfire does not respect property boundaries. Therefore, it is important to collaborate with neighbors to reduce wildfire risk in the larger community in which you live.
Zone 1: Wildfire Risk Management Strategies That Maintain Curb Appeal
The goal for Zone 1 is to arrange vegetation and plantings in islands or groups. This helps to break up the vegetation and prevents plants from becoming potential fuel that can lead fire directly to your home. The islands of plantings can be separated by a well-watered and maintained lawn and areas of brick, stone, gravel, or rock.
This does not mean that homeowners need to completely remove trees and shrubs. Simply thinning, pruning, and rearranging plants to reduce the possibility of flames contacting your home is sufficient.
Rethinking your landscaping may include selecting new plants that are more resistant to fire and removing species that are most susceptible to burning, such as conifers, junipers, cedars, or vegetation with a high oil/resin content.
Maintenance + Separation = Wildfire Mitigation
In Zone 1, it is also important to break up “ladder fuels.” Ladder fuels spread fire from smaller plants to shrubs and then into the tree canopy, which can eventually reach your house. If you have shrubs under trees, it is advisable to relocate them. If that is not possible, remove any dead vegetation from under the canopy and trim the tree’s lower limbs to a height that is about three times that of the shrubs. It is also vital to consider the slope of a property because the steeper the slope, the more separation between plants is needed.
If you have an outbuilding, a garage, or a shed within 30 feet of your home, you should also take steps to reduce the risk to these structures. As you would for a primary residence, remove vegetation and debris, especially around stationary propane tanks. Also, locate wood piles as far away from structures as possible.
Every property will have a unique set of risks, but minor changes made today can help protect your property and your community in the years to come.
10 Tips for Wildfire Risk Management
What to Do for Zone 1:
- Think about groupings and islands of plantings with proper vertical and horizontal separation.
- Work with neighbors to reduce risk on both sides of the property line.
- Remove or reduce “ladder fuels.”
- Keep this zone well irrigated and consider the flammability of plants and trees when adding foliage.
- Consider including hardscaping features in your landscape.
- Maintain clearances around sheds, outbuildings, fuel tanks, and woodpiles.
What Not to Do for Zone 1:
- Do not allow vegetation debris to accumulate underneath or within plants. Remove dead vegetation promptly, particularly during the fire season.
- Do not allow vegetation to provide a continuous pathway to your home or business.
- Do not allow tree crowns to grow closer than 10 feet apart.
- Do not allow ladder fuels to grow unchecked (from plant, to shrub, to tree). Regular maintenance is key to reducing wildfire risk.
Small but consistent effort is the key to keeping your property looking its best while also reducing your wildfire risk.
A wildfire risk management strategy does not require removing all the foliage from around your home. Rather, you just need to be thoughtful about which plants you use and where you place them. When done right, mitigation measures can simultaneously beautify your home, increase your property value, and reduce the risk of damage from wildfire.