Wildfire risk is a part of life in Southern California. Over 2 million properties in California are estimated to have a high to extreme risk of wildfire.
You can help protect your home from wildfires by using fire-safe landscaping. Not only does a wildfire defensible space give you a beautiful home, but you also help reduce your risk of damage from fire.
Learn how using fire-resistant plants and landscaping could lower your risk of property damage in the event of a wildfire.
What is a Wildfire Defensible Space?
Firesafe landscaping is used to create a wildfire defensible space around your home. Defensible spaces are designed to form a buffer between your home and dangerous flames.
The good news is firesafe landscaping could provide the firebreak needed to limit damage to your property.
Defensible Space Zones
More fire-resistant landscaping plans use two to four zones. California law requires property owners to maintain a defensible space from your home out to 100 feet or the property line if under 100 feet. These initial 100 feet make up Zones 1 and 2.
Wildfire defense zones include:
- Zone 1: Extends 30 feet from buildings and structures like decks. You must remove plant litter, like dead leaves or vegetation, from this zone entirely. Trees in Zone 1 must not have branches overhanging your roof or within 10 feet of your chimney. Trees must also be at least 10 feet from one another. Check with your local government to see if there are additional requirements for Zone 1.
- Zone 2: Continues from Zone 1 for another 70 feet, to complete the required 100 feet. In Zone 2, grass should be kept below 4 inches and there should be several feet of space between ground plants, like bushes, and trees.
- Zone 3 and 4: While not required by law, you should still maintain trees, bushes or vegetation beyond the initial 100 feet of your home. Trim branches and remove plant litter to reduce the risk of fire reaching your home.
Tips for Choosing Fire-Resistant Materials
You might be worried that fire-safe landscaping will hurt your property values. Luckily, there are lots of ways to introduce a wildfire defensible space using landscaping while also increasing curb appeal.
Follow these tips to get the most benefits out of your fire-resistant landscape design:
- Fire-Resistant Native Plants: Much of Southern California is a dry, desert climate. Many plants that grow in the area have adapted to the threat of wildfire. While no plants are completely fireproof, some are less likely to catch fire as easily as others. Try to choose plants native to the area, such as California Redbud or Red Monkey Flower. In addition to being resistant to fire, most native plants are also drought-tolerant.
It’s important to remember, however, that not all desert plants are ideal for fire-safe landscaping. Some plants have adapted to use the fire season as part of their lifecycles. Consider visiting a local nursery for recommendations on the best plants for a defensible space.
- Remove Plant Litter: One of the best things you can do to reduce the threat of wildfire is to remove flammable objects from your property. Plant litter, such as fallen leaves or pine needles, is dry, brittle and highly flammable. Many wildfires use plant litter as fuel to rage across acres of ground in minutes. By removing this fuel, you could help slow the speed of an oncoming wildfire.
- Incorporate Natural Firebreaks: Gravel, river pebbles and other rocks make great natural firebreaks while adding visual appeal to your property. You can incorporate these natural objects into your design, such as a gravel path through your property or rock-lined flower beds.
- Add Hardscapes: In addition to rocks or gravel, hardscape materials like pavers or retaining walls also help slow a fire’s spread. Consider adding stone walkways, a paved driveway and concrete or brick patios to your home instead of using materials like wood.
- Avoid High-Risk Trees and Bushes: All plants are capable of burning, including trees. Some trees are at higher risk than others. Avoid planting fir trees or pines. These species have a high sap content and cover the ground with dry, flammable needles. Try planting varieties like maple, poplar or cherry trees instead.
- Maintain Your Firesafe Landscape: Fire-resistant landscapes don’t work properly without maintenance. Be sure to water your plants and remove plant debris regularly. Watering plants helps keep them retain moisture, making them less likely to catch fire. Likewise, getting rid of dead branches, leaves and dried grasses reduces fuel for flames.
Protect Your Home from Wildfires
Creating a fire-safe landscape is just one way to help protect your home from wildfire. You should also make sure your homeowners insurance is up to date. Most homeowners policies cover fire, but you may need to take out additional coverage for high-value items, like jewelry or fine art. Talk with your Wawanesa agent today to make sure your homeowners policy is ready for wildfire season in Southern California.
Test Your Knowledge
Insurance Information Institute: https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-wildfires
CAL Fire: https://www.readyforwildfire.org/more/fire-safety-laws/