The firestorms that are raging through Southern California provide a good reminder on why planning for fire in landscaping your home is an important consideration, especially in the arid west. In Marin County there are several densely wooded areas, in Fairfax and Mill Valley especially, that are very suceptible to fire. There are a few key considerations that can help reduce fire risk in the event of a major blaze. Having defensible space where vegetation is cleared around the home is a key consideration. Removing pyrophitic vegetation close to the home, such as Eucalyptus, Pines, and Junipers can also help. For example, the city of San Rafael recently passed an ordinance requiring the removal of all bamboo and junipers within 100′ of structures by 2011.
Firesafe Marin has these important tips:
- Assess your fire risk. Is your home on a hill? Are you near highly flammable native vegetation or drought-damaged ornamental plants? If your answer is yes, your fire risk is greater than average.
- Contact your local fire department for fire hazard ratings in your neighborhood.
- Plan your landscape to reduce the amount of flammable vegetation nearest your home. Establish defensible space.
- Consider consulting your local nursery or a landscape contractor to help plan your landscape.
- Eliminate the “fire ladder.” Fire needs fuel to burn. You can sap its strength by robbing it of the continuous sequence of vegetation that can carry flames from your landscape to your house.
- Group plants of similar height and water requirements to create a “landscape mosaic” that can slow the spread of fire and use water most efficiently.
- Space trees at least 10 feet apart, and keep branches trimmed at least 10 feet from your roof. For trees taller than 18 feet, prune lower branches within six feet of the ground.
- Install fire resistant, drought-tolerant plants that have a high moisture content. Use plants that do not accumulate dead leaves or twigs.
- Use masonry or stone walls to separate plant groups and add variety to your landscape.
- Choose the right irrigation system. While all plants will eventually burn, healthy plants burn less quickly. Your plant selection and water availability will determine the right system for you.
- Consider drip irrigation for watering most of your landscape. It’s effective and conserves water because it targets where the water goes and how much gets there.
- Use sprinklers for lawns or turf landscaping. Drip irrigation does not work well on lawns. Sprinklers on timers ensure your lawn is getting the right amount of water to keep it healthy and fire resistant.
- Keep your landscape healthy and clean. On a regular basis, remove dead branches, leaves and pine needles from your yard. These can serve as added fuel to a fire.
- Prune and thin shrubs, trees and other plants to minimize the fuel load.
- Be diligent about cleaning up, especially during fire season. Remove dead leaves from under the plants as well.
- Involve your gardener. If a gardener cares for your property, ask him or her to include these regular maintenance steps as part of the routine service.
- Recycle/compost plant materials. Participate in your community’s green waste recycling program. You can also compost plant litter and create a money-saving alternative to store-bought soil and mulch. Grass cycling is another time and money saving way to make your green waste work for you.