August 2, 2014 in Washington Voices

Gardening: Maintenance, landscaping best bet to protect home from wildfire

Pat Munts
 

Crews work to protect homes and extinguish a brush fire on the slope below High Drive Monday in Spokane. Firewise landscaping can help protect your home from fire. For example, away from the home, group plants in naturalized settings that highlight their landscape characteristics, and mow grass regularly around the house or plant grasses that stay low.
(Full-size photo)

Resources

Fire-Resistant Plants for the Home Landscape (PNW 590) available for download and viewing at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/ abstract.php?seriesno=PNW+590

The statistics are staggering: 303 homes burned, 250,000 acres scorched. The Carlton Complex fire is the largest wildfire in Washington history and it’s still burning. It’s a matter of “when” not “if” the next fire will start. Here are a few tips for getting ready for the next fire.

First, move flammable materials away from your house and outbuildings. Sparks can land in them and easily ignite the structure. Gutters need to be cleaned regularly of needles and leaves. Firewood and other flammable materials need to be moved away from structures. Enclose the space under decks. Pick up trash and clutter. If your roof needs replacing, use the best fire-resistant materials available.

Make your landscape clean, green and lean. Clean up fallen needles and cones around structures. Pay special attention to areas where the wind piles needles, as windborne sparks will land in the same areas. Remove small evergreens planted within 30 feet of the house, especially those around structure foundations. Most conifers and junipers are high in turpenes (as in turpentine) that burn easily when sparks drop in them. Limb up larger evergreens at least 12 feet off the ground to reduce the potential of fire moving into the tree’s crown.

Mow grass regularly around the house or plant grasses that stay low. A 2-foot-tall stand of dry grass will support an 8-foot-tall column of flame. Thin out deciduous shrubs close to the house to remove twiggy dead material that could catch fire. If you have a good water supply, keep the grass and shrubs green.

Replace bark mulches close to structures with gravel, rock or hardscape. Trim trees and brush away from your driveway and post your address on a metal or nonflammable stand at its entrance so firefighters can locate it easily.

Firewise landscaping doesn’t have to be boring. Place stone and other nonflammable materials in a naturalized pattern near foundations and then plant the most fire-resistant plants among the stone. Farther away from the house, group plants in naturalized settings that highlight their landscape characteristics. Select replacement plants that remain moist and supple even when it gets a bit dry and don’t produce a lot of twiggy growth or an abundance of dead wood.

Not sure where to start when developing a firewise landscape? The Spokane Conservation District offers free fire protection assessments through the Firewise program. District staff will walk through your property and identify hazards. In some cases there may be cost-share money available to help pay for thinning. Go to www.sccd.org/firewise.html to request an appointment. Consider getting some of your neighbors together to create a firewise community.

A last note: Creating a fire-resistant landscape and defensible space around your house will not guarantee that your house won’t burn in a fire. It merely increases the possibilities of surviving one. If a fire is big enough, no human effort can keep it away from your house.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for over 35 years. She can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.


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