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Do you have tips on firewise landscaping?

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A landscape that gives a home or building the best chance for surviving a wildfire is one that provides a defensible space. Fires need fuel, oxygen and heat to burn. Defensible space landscapes are low in fuel and help keep fire away from the structure so that firefighters have a chance to defend it. Consider these tips in providing a defensible space landscape for your home:

* Cut tall grass near structures. A fire in dry grass burns quickly and is very difficult to control.
* Create a 30-foot zone around your home that contains only well-managed, firewise plants.
* Examples of firewise plants include mowed and irrigated turf, moist perennials such as irises and daylilies, and a few well-pruned and maintained, widely-spaced broadleaved trees and shrubs. All plants and trees will burn if a fire is severe enough, but some are more fire prone than others. Conifers such as pines and spruces tend to be fairly flammable, while many broadleaved trees are more fire resistant.
* Remove all trees and shrubs from within 10 feet of homes and buildings. Dense brush burns quickly and can act as a ladder for low flames to reach into larger trees or homes.
* Maintain a fuel break of low-growing plants 30 to 70 feet away from homes and buildings on larger lots. Fuel breaks act as a buffer between the manicured landscape near the home and adjacent property. This becomes especially important in a severe fire. Houses located high on steep slopes need wide, clear spaces to protect them from fires burning uphill. Local wind conditions may also warrant more widely-cleared areas.
* Rake leaves and twigs from under trees and shrubs to reduce fuel loads. Tree litter that accumulates on roofs and in gutters should also be removed regularly. Litter accumulated on lower branches of trees and shrubs should be removed as well as litter in adjacent wildland areas if possible. Litter should then be placed in an approved landfill.
* Prune tree branches. Prune branches 10 to 20 feet above the ground on large trees to prevent low fires from reaching the tree crowns.
* Thin dense tree groups. Though the grouping of trees is a commonlyused landscaping technique, it can be hazardous in fire-prone areas. Thinning these groups will slow the spread of fire.
* Remove firewood and other combustible materials from areas around buildings. Firewood should be stored on the outside edge of your defensible space.
* Make sure firefighters can reach all parts of your property. Place fences, trees and retaining walls so they don't restrict firefighting equipment access.
* Cooperate with neighbors to provide large defensible spaces. In areas where lot sizes are small and homes are close, neighbors should work especially hard to have firewise landscaping. If you properly maintain your lot but your neighbor's overgrown lot is only 10 feet from your house, none of your preparations will keep your structure safe. If there are many neighbors who aren't being cautious, ordinances or restrictive covenants may be necessary for everyone's protection.
* Check your landscape on a monthly basis and attend to problems before they become serious hazards.

These techniques will not guarantee complete fire safety; however, firewise landscaping can greatly increase a home's chances of survival if a fire occurs. A list of firewise plants is available at your USU County Extension office or on the Web site at extension.usu.edu/publica/natrpub2.htm.

Posted on 12 Jul 2001

Michael Kuhns
Forestry Specialist

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