Home landscaping is first line of defense against wildfire
Before summer arrives, homeowners can create a circle of safety around their home to protect it from wildfire.
May is Oregon Wildfire Awareness Month. All month long the Oregon Department of Forestry, Keep Oregon Green Association, the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal and fire educators statewide are spreading the word on ways to prevent human-caused wildfires, as well as how to protect a home in case a fire encroaches.
"In a large fire event, firefighters may not have the resources to defend every house. Just as you lock the doors to keep your home and family safe, think of creating a fuel-free defensible space. This 'circle of safety,' around your home can reduce fire danger and provide safe access to firefighters so they can protect it," said Kristin Babbs, president of Keep Oregon Green.
The main culprits are a wildfire's hot embers. They can waft through the air a mile or more ahead of the actual flame front.
When these embers land, in a matter of minutes they can ignite leaves and needles accumulated on roofs or rain gutters or cause flammable landscape plants to begin burning. In some instances, house fires start after embers on the roof and in gutters have smoldered without smoke for days, creeping into the roof's underlayment before bursting into open flames.
"You can't control where these embers land, but you can control what happens when they do," she said.
Here are a few tips to help reduce the threat of wildfire damage to your home:
Clean up: To create a circle of safety around your property, start with the house and the first 30 feet extending from the outermost part of the structure, including detached garages and sheds. The roof is the most vulnerable part of the home. Regularly clear leaves and needles from the roof and gutters, and cut back any tree limbs that overhang the roof.
Choose fire-resistant landscaping: Landscaping should consist of low-growing, fire-resistant plants that are spaced carefully so as not to provide fuel close to a structure. Rake leaves and debris from the yard, mow grass, prune trees six to 10 feet up from the ground, and keep plants well-watered to prevent a surface fire from climbing into the tree crowns and carrying flames to the house.
Properly placed healthy deciduous trees can actually protect a home by blocking a wildfire's intense heat.
Avoid highly flammable species, such as pine and juniper. Spaces free of fuel, such as driveways, gravel walkways and green lawns can halt the advance of a fire.
In the zone 100 to 200 feet from the home, trees may need to be thinned, though less intensively than those closer in, so that canopies are not touching.
It is not inevitable that a wildfire will consume everything in its path. The more defensible space a homeowner creates before fire season, the better a home's chances of surviving a wildfire.
"It's peace of mind knowing that if you leave your home for a stretch of time this summer, it will still be standing when you return," Babbs said.