Should You Worry About Wildfire?
That depends. If you live in the “urban-wildland interface” with your property adjoining a natural area, then your risk could be significant. Factors that compound the risk are:
- Dead or flammable vegetation under or against the house
- “Ladder fuels” like low hanging branches and shrubs that can carry flames into the treetops
- A steeply sloped natural area leading up to the house
- A long narrow access road or driveway with dense vegetation on both sides
- A flammable roof
Embers can start spot fires up to a mile beyond the leading edge of an intense wildfire. Little things like leaves in the gutter or wicker patio furniture ignited by embers can start house fires. Your local fire department could be stretched so thin from battling multiple wildfires that they might not be able to respond to your house fire in time.
The good news is that fire can’t survive without small fuels to ignite and larger fuels to burn. Homes and landscapes that have been designed or modified to be ignition-resistant are much more likely to survive wildfire. In many cases, the fire will burn up toward the house and then die out when it meets ignition-resistant surfaces.
This one-minute video from Firewise.org shows a real-life case where a Firewise home survived a wildfire that burned the home next door to the ground. Watch, learn and prepare to be Firewise.
Be Wise. Be Firewise.
Judith Leraas Cook of Firewise USA created this slide show for arborists, but it's a great introduction for everyone interested in how Firewise strategies work.
Be Fire Wise:
You Need More Space If You Live On A Slope
Wildfire can race rapidly uphill, so houses on slopes need more than the minimum defensible space. The rule of thumb is that for each degree of slope over 10 degrees, you should add one additional foot of defensible space to the 30 to 60 foot minimum. For example, if your home is on a 30 degree slope, add 20 feet to the minimum for a total of 50 to 80 feet.
Measure degrees of slope with a protractor shown in the photo (instructions here). You can buy an inexpensive protractor at most office supply stores.
Highly Flammable Trees & Shrubs
Topping the list are evergreens with high levels of volatile oils in the leaves. Juniper, rosemary, yaupon and other hollies, boxwood and waxmyrtle are all examples of commonly planted, highly flammable evergreens. You may want to think twice before planting highly flammable plants next to wood trim or under large windows.
Research has indicated that Ashe juniper (a.k.a. “cedar”) is somewhat ignition resistant during periods of normal rainfall, but it can be highly flammable during periods of extreme heat and drought. Live oaks and mountain laurel are both evergreens, but they're less combustible and usually won't carry a crown fire.
You don’t need to eliminate highly flammable plants from your yard, but look at their placement. Could they act as ladder fuels to carry fire from ground level into tree crowns? If planted in isolated groups and surrounded by irrigated grass or rock, they won’t carry fire to other plants.
Less Flammable Choices For Firewise Landscaping
Generally trees and shrubs that drop their leaves in winter are less combustible, but there is no such thing as a completely fireproof plant. Firewise plants typically have a high moisture level, large flat leaves and an open branching structure that reduces the death of interior branches. For more information about the characteristics of Firewise plants, visit the Texas Forest Service website.
Most WUI specialists in Texas agree that the spacing and placement of landscape plants around the home is more important than species flammability. Creating a defensible space with proper plant spacing and periodic fire breaks (rock walkways, a well irrigated lawn) is the most important step in developing a Firewise landscape plan.
Increase Your Home's Chance Of Survival By Cleaning Up Now!
If you live in a subdivision surrounded by lush lawns and golf courses, then following the first eight “quick and easy tips” in the document below should provide adequate protection from firebrands blown in from a nearby wildfire. If you live in the urban-wildland interface, then consider taking the additional measures listed on the second page. Creating a defensible space will increase your home’s chance of surviving a catastrophic wildfire.