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Using Landscape Fire Breaks to Protect Your Home

The horrific and destructive wildfires that are sweeping across California have thousands of homeowners asking, “What can I do to protect my home?”
Ned Patchett Consulting extends its sympathies to the families who have lost loved ones as a result of the fires, and empathizes with those who have lost their homes. We hope the healing process starts soon for everyone.
To help California homeowners make their property less vulnerable and more defensible against wildfires, the professionals at Ned Patchett offer the following information.
Create an area of defensible space or reduced landscape fuel between your home and flammable vegetation to reduce the risk of home ignition. Homeowners that regularly maintain vegetation by pruning, trimming and removing dead plants, grasses and trees stand a better chance against having that vegetation ignite during a fire incident.

Embers and small flames are the main way that the majority of homes ignite in wildfires. Embers can include burning pieces of airborne wood and/or vegetation that can be carried more than a mile through the wind causing spot fires and igniting homes, debris and other objects.

Studies have shown that homes ignite due to the condition of the home – and everything around it – up to 200 feet from the foundation. This, according to the National Fire Protection Association, is called the Home Ignition Zone (HIZ).

What Are Home Ignition Zones?

The concept of the home ignition zone was developed by a retired USDA Forest Service fire scientist and is divided into three zones.

 Immediate Zone or non-combustible zone

The home and the area 0 to 5 ft. from the furthest attached exterior point of the home is the most important zone to address first as it’s the most vulnerable to embers. Homeowners should start here and then move into the landscaping section of the Immediate Zone.

  • Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and needles that could catch embers.
  • Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – this includes mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches.
  • Trim back or remove all branches, shrubs, vegetation and grass to at least 5 feet from the roof and home and 10 feet from chimneys.
  • Replace or repair any loose or missing shingles or roof tiles to prevent ember penetration.
  • Reduce embers that could pass through vents in the eaves by installing 1/8 inch metal mesh screening.
  • Clean debris from exterior attic vents and install 1/8 inch metal mesh screening to reduce embers.
  • Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens and any broken windows, screens or boxed in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.
Intermediate Zone

From 5 to 30 ft. from the furthest exterior point of the home is the Intermediate zone. The use of landscaping and hardscaping can create breaks that can help influence and decrease fire behavior.

  • Clear vegetation away from and under large stationary propane tanks.
  • Create fuel breaks with driveways, walkways/paths, patios and decks. No flammable materials around or below trees.
  • Keep lawns and native grasses mowed to a height of four inches. Mow meadow grass no later than June 15.
  • Remove ladder fuels (shrubs and vegetation under trees) so a surface fire cannot reach the crowns.  Reduce shrub height under trees to 18 inches or a 6-foot separation from tree branches, to reduce fuel ladders. Clear dead materials from within or underneath shrubs and vegetation.
  • Prune trees up to five to 10 feet from the ground; for shorter trees do not exceed 1/3 of the overall tree height. Remove dead branches less than 3 inches in diameter.
  • Space trees with a minimum of 18 feet between crowns with the distance increasing as the slope does.
  • Tree placement should be planned so that the mature canopy is no closer than 10 feet to the edge of the structure.
  • Tree and shrubs in this zone should be limited to small clusters of a few each to break up the continuity of the vegetation across the landscape. Break up large masses of shrubs to create fire breaks between clusters.
  • Remove all dead trees, shrubs and vegetation. This includes dead wood and dead tree litter/debris on the ground.
  • Clear leaf litter and mulch to no more than 2 inches in depth.
 Extended Zone

Thirty to 100 ft. and out to 200 ft. is the extended zone. The goal here is not to eliminate fire, but to interrupt fire’s path and keep flames smaller and on the ground.

  • Dispose of heavy accumulations of ground litter/debris.
  • Remove dead plant and tree material.
  • Remove small conifers growing between mature trees.
  • Remove vegetation adjacent to storage sheds or other outbuildings within this area.
  • Trees 30 to 60 feet from the home should have at least 12 feet between canopy tops.*
  • Trees 60 to 100 feet from the home should have at least 6 feet between the canopy tops.

Are you looking for an innovative tree service and landscape design and maintenance company that will uniquely and passionately create and care for your trees and yard like they were their own?

Let the experienced professionals at Ned Patchett Consulting deliver for you. Connect with us at info@nedpatchettconsulting.com or 650-728-8308

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Note: Portions of this information were adapted from the National Fire Prevention Association, the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Portola Valley Ranch Annual Fuel Reduction Essentials.

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