Nearly every state has experienced fires that rage out of control in the landscape. While the largest and most devastating burn in the West, fires also spread in the East and South where suburb meets country, or housing development meets conservation land.
“Fires need fuel, such as dead trees, shrubs and grasses,” says Tchukki Andersen, BCMA, staff arborist with the Tree Care Industry Association. “While no landscape is fireproof, there are steps you should take to reduce the danger.”
If you are in a wildfire fire-prone area, reduce the amount of fuel around homes. Landscapes need an area of reduced fuels between homes and undeveloped land. This provides enough distance between a building and a fire to ensure that the home will more likely survive without firefighters.
All dead branches that may hang over the roof should be removed. Leaves, needles and other dead vegetation should not be allowed to build up on the roof or in gutters.
In parts of the country where wildfires are rare, an area of well-irrigated vegetation should extend at least 30 feet from the home on all sides. In high-hazard areas, a clearance of between 50 and 100 feet or more may be necessary – especially on downhill sides of the lot.
Further from the house, install low-growing shrubs. When planting trees, space them at least 10 feet apart. Professional arborists should remove larger broken or dead limbs higher in the tree. Careful pruning preserves a tree’s appearance, enhances structural integrity and assists in the plant’s ability to resist fire.
The lower limbs of tall shade trees should be pruned 6 feet above the ground. Beyond 100 feet from the house, dead wood and older trees should be removed or thinned by qualified professionals.
“As a general rule, the healthier the tree, the more likely it is to survive a fire,” said Andersen. “In addition to pruning, a professional arborist can recommend fertilization, soil management, disease treatment or pest control measures to promote healthy trees. Landscape design and maintenance are also important factors in a home’s survival.”