Routine Maintenance is Essential

Your home is your largest investment. It seems like it is not too much to ask to budget a few hours per year to keep your home FireWise. Below are some tips for your home and landscape that will help avoid the loss of your home should a wildfire approach.

Maintain Vertical and Horizontal Separation

Shrubs grow up and the bottom branches of trees often bend down as they grow. This can cause a previously well kept landscape to become more prone to fire and to become the fuel ladder we discussed before. Common fuel ladders include tall grasses, shrubs and tree branches, both living and dead. Potential fuel ladders should be removed to reduce the risk of fire bridging the gap to the canopy. Removing the ladder requires pruning any low limbs up to a minimum of 8 feet and potentially as high as 15 feet (see Figure 7.12). Within your Defensible Space perimeter make sure that you keep shrubs from touching tree branches and maintain a wide separation among plants. It is certainly okay to clump plants together for aesthetic reasons, just make sure that the clumps are separated from other clumps, and that you are not providing a pathway to your home, or a fuel ladder to the crown of your trees.

Prune Trees and Shrubs Periodically

In some of the other chapters of this book we urged you to select plants so that you minimize this particular chore. But it is true that some trees and shrubs need maintenance to keep them from getting overgrown or to protect your landscape from becoming fuel rich.

Remove Dead Leaves and Branches

Dead branches and leaves are especially flammable. Remove them from your Defensible Space. Do not pile them up inside your Defensible Space unless it is into your compost pile where the moisture will prevent its ignition.

Remove Dead Annual Plants

The dried foliage of annuals or some perennial plants can help fuel a wildland fire. Your green and vibrant summer flower beds were FireWise, but come fall, they might be prone to fire. Clip and compost the spent foliage.

Figure 7.12
Techniques to maintain vertical and horizontal separation in your FireWire Landscape.
Illustration by Sarah Lynch-Walker.

Water Plants Adequately

Keeping your plants well watered can protect against fire. Well watered plants are healthy, well-hydrated, and produce less waste material, and are therefore more difficult to ignite. Even in the winter months, assuming that the ground is not frozen, you may want to consider periodically watering your trees and shrubs. Even if they are deciduous and things have slowed down for them, they are still active and may need water to remain healthy, especially if they are newly or recently planted.

Keep Gutters and Roofs Clean and Free of Debris

In the fall, the roof and the gutter often fill up with very flammable leaves and small twigs. Keep these areas clear of debris to avoid a tinder box for fire. Also, in the spring, flowers from trees and small twigs can accumulate, so at the very least you should inspect your gutters and check for the buildup of tree litter.

Many of the techniques we have discussed above are much more effective if everyone in your community practices them. You can make your community a FireWise Community that will greatly decrease the chances of wildfire spreading through your community as well as decreasing the damage caused by fire. There are a number of activities that you and the members of your community can employ to make yours a FireWise Community.