Reduce Your Wildfire Risk

Preparing Homes for Wildfire: Vegetation Management, Defensible Space & Home Hardening

Research around home destruction vs. home survival in wildfires suggests that embers are the reason that the majority of homes ignite in wildfires. Embers are burning pieces of airborne wood and/or vegetation that can be carried more than a mile through the wind and can cause spot fires and ignite homes, debris and other objects. There are methods for homeowners to prepare their homes to withstand ember attacks and minimize the likelihood of flames or surface fire touching the home or any attachments.

Vegetation Management 

Defensible space is the space between a structure and the wildland area that creates a sufficient buffer to slow or halt the spread of fire to a structure. It protects the home from igniting due to direct flame or radiant heat. Defensible space is essential to help protect a structure during a wildland fire. You can create defensible space by removing weeds, brush, and other vegetation from around your property. 

Defensible space is made up of three zones around your home – follow the advice provided for each to help protect your home:

0-30 feet around your home
or to property line

  • Use hard surfaces such as concrete or noncombustible rock mulch 0-5 feet around home.  
  • Use non-wood, low-growing herbaceous vegetation. Succulent plants and ground covers are good choices.  
  • Store firewood and other combustible materials at least 30 feet away from your home, garage, or attached deck.  
  • Trim back touching or overhanging branches from the roof to a distance of at least 10 feet.

30-100 feet around your home
or to property line

  • Create vegetation groups, “islands,” to break up continuous fuels around your home. 
  • Remove ladder fuels to create a separation between low-level vegetation and tree branches to keep fire from climbing trees.  
  • Remove leaf and needle debris from the yard.
  • Keep grass and wildflowers under 8 inches in height.

100-200 feet around your home
or to property line

  • Create and maintain a minimum of 10 feet between the tops of trees.  
  • Remove ladder fuels, creating a separation between low-level vegetation and tree branches to keep fire from climbing up trees.
  • Remove dead trees and shrubs.

LADDER FUELS: Ladder fuels should also be considered as they allow the fire to climb from the surface fuels into the upper portion of the tree. They can be eliminated by increasing horizontal and vertical separation between vegetation. 

POWER LINES: Create safe space between power lines, and trees and brush that can act as fuel for wildfires.

Home Hardening

Construction materials and the quality of the defensible space surrounding the structure are what  increases the chance of survival in a wildland fire. Embers from a wildland fire will find the weak spot in  your home’s fire protection scheme and can easily catch because of small, overlooked, or seemingly inconsequential factors. Below are some measures you can take to safeguard your home. 

ROOFS:  Roofs are the most vulnerable surface where embers land because they become lodged and can start a fire. Roof valleys, open ends of barrel tiles, and rain gutters are all points of entry. Block off all open spaces, and regularly inspect these areas. 

EAVES: Embers can gather under open eaves and ignite combustible material. Enclose your eaves to prevent ember intrusion, and regularly clear away debris that collects here. 

VENTS: Embers can enter the attic or other concealed spaces and ignite combustible materials. Vents in eaves and cornices are particularly vulnerable, as are any unscreened vents. Use corrosion resistant metal mesh to screen all vents, and check them regularly to remove any debris that collects in front of the screen. 

WALLS & FENCING: Combustible siding or other combustible/overlapping materials provide surfaces and crevices for embers to nestle and ignite. Build or remodel with noncombustible or ignition-resistant materials wherever possible, regularly clear away debris from any crevices, and perform annual upkeep. 

WINDOWS & DOORS: Embers can enter gaps in doors, including garage doors. Install weather proofing around your garage door, and if your garage is attached to your home make sure the interior door is solid and on self-closing hinges. Plants or combustible storage near windows can be ignited from embers and generate heat that can break windows and/or melt combustible frames. Wherever possible, use dual-paned windows with tempered glass, as they are less likely to shatter from radiant heat. 

BALCONIES & DECKS: Construct your balconies or decks with noncombustible materials, and do not store combustible items underneath them. If there is a fire threat, bring any furniture into your home. Embers can collect in or on combustible surfaces, or beneath decks and balconies, igniting the material and entering the home through walls or windows.  

FIRE SPRINKLER SYSTEM:  To harden your home even further, consider protecting your home with a residential fire sprinkler system. In addition to extinguishing a fire started by an ember that enters your home, a sprinkler system can help protect you and your family year-round from any home fire. 

Learn more about vegetation management, creating defensible space, and how to harden your home in the property owner resource library.