Fire safety in the landscape


With all that’s happened over the last year, the smoke and devastation of last year’s wildfires may seem like a distant memory for some of us. Indeed, our typical February rain and chilly temperatures make fire season feel very far away. But now is the time to act on the lessons learned from fires of past years and take steps to mitigate the fire danger for the coming summer and fall.

The fire danger is sure to come. Our extended drought conditions persist, and even if there is some relief, our typical weather conditions tend to create their own set of hazards. According to Mark Ingalls, from Washington State University’s AgWeatherNet, we can face high fire conditions whether we have wet or dry weather in the coming months. High amounts of rainfall can stimulate a flush of small growth which rapidly dries out during the summer and becomes tinder for wildfires. On the other hand, in very dry years everything, including large vegetation like trees, becomes extremely dry and vulnerable to ignition sources. So, what can we do to protect lives and our property?

The answer is to create conditions that are not conducive to fire. Studies show that as many as 80 percent of homes lost to wildfires may have been saved if brush around the homes were cleared and a “defensible space” created around the structures. These principles apply to city dwellings as well as rural areas.

You can create a defensible space by eliminating flammable materials around your home. The closest 30 feet around structures is the most critical space. The Washington Department of Natural Resources has created a list of some of the most important defensive strategies. The most important points to consider in this zone include:

• Avoid the use of high-resin evergreens like junipers and pines. Deciduous trees are preferable.

• Keep tree limbs at least 15 feet from chimneys.

• Trim limbs up to 15 feet above the ground.

• Choose fire-smart plants: low-growers with a high moisture content.

• Space plantings apart and keep them well maintained.

• Incorporate boulders, rock mulches and other nonflammable barriers around the house.

• Keep the area “lean, clean and green:” separate plantings, remove dead vegetation, and keep plants well-watered and green during fire season.

Following these basic concepts can help protect your home in the event of a fire, but this only scratches the surface. To learn more, plan on attending the March 8 Fire Safety Webinar.