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Creating A Defensible Space

The National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise Communities Program provides extensive information on how homeowners can mitigate damage from wildfires.

For more information on the Firewise Program, visit;

Wildfire behavior is influenced by three main factors: topography (lie of the land), weather (wind speed, relative humidity and ambient temperature) and fuel (vegetation and man-made structures). Of these three factors, fuel is the only one we can influence. The primary goal for Firewise landscaping is fuel reduction — limiting the amount of flammable vegetation and materials surrounding the home and increasing the moisture content of remaining vegetation. The home itself and everything around it up to 100 – 200 feet is known as the ‘home ignition zone.’ Within this 200 foot area, there are three zones:

Zone 1 encircles the structure and all its attachments (wooden decks, fences, and boardwalks) for at least 30 feet on all sides. Note: the 30-foot number comes from the very minimum distance, on flat ground, that a wood wall can be separated from the radiant heat of large flames without igniting. In this area:

  • Plants should be carefully spaced, low-growing and free of resins, oils and waxes that burn easily.
  • Mow the lawn regularly. Prune trees up six to ten feet from the ground.
  • Space conifer trees 30 feet between crowns. Trim back trees that overhang the house.
  • Create a ‘fire-free’ area within five feet of the home, using non-flammable landscaping materials and/or high-moisture-content annuals and perennials.
  • Remove dead vegetation from under deck and within 10 feet of house.
  • Consider fire-resistant material for patio furniture, swing sets, etc.
  • Remove firewood stacks and propane tanks; they should not be located in this zone.
  • Water plants, trees and mulch regularly.
  • Consider xeriscaping if you are affected by water-use restrictions.

Zone 2 is 30 to 100 feet from the home, and plants in this zone should be low-growing, well irrigated and less flammable. In this area:

  • Leave 30 feet between clusters of two to three trees, or 20 feet between individual trees.
  • Encourage a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees.
  • Create ‘fuel breaks’, like driveways, gravel walkways and lawns.
  • Prune trees up six to ten feet from the ground.

Zone 3 is 100 to 200 feet from the home and this area should be thinned, although less space is required than in Zone 2. NOTE: Because of other factors such as topography, the recommended distances to mitigate for radiant heat exposure actually extend between 100 to 200 feet from the home – on a site-specific basis. In this area:

  • Remove smaller conifers that are growing between taller trees. Remove heavy accumulation of woody debris.
  • Reduce the density of tall trees so canopies are not touching.


  • Complete a home inventory – this will assist in talking with your insurance provider should you suffer a loss due to a wildfire. Consider making a video walk-through of your possessions and keep that in a safe off-site location.
  • Sign up for local Emergency Notifications/Alerts
  • Have an Evacuation Plan and a designated meeting place where family members will reconnect after the evacuation. Ensure everyone in the household knows the plan and meeting place location.
  • Know where evacuation centers will be located in your community
  • Have an off-site phone number, (relative, etc.) where family members can check in and provide status information
  • Have a plan and supplies for your pets


  • Make sure there’s at least a 72-hour supply of important medications in your go-bag
  • Know which personal items, (pictures, documents, etc.) have been prioritized to take if time permits, when evacuation is necessary
  • Remove deck/ patio furniture, cushions and door mats to prevent ember ignitions
  • Remove portable propane tanks from the deck/patio
  • Know how to turn off the gas to the home
  • Place a ladder against the house (for Fire Department use)
  • Have your garden hoses connected (for Fire Department use)
  • Make sure windows, doors and garage doors are closed
  • Make sure windows are closed on vehicles that will remain at the residence while you’re evacuated