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 buffer you create between your home the grass, trees, shrubs, or any other wildland area that surround it. This space helps to slow or stop the spread of wildfire and it protects your home from catching fire, either from embers, direct flame contact, or radiant heat. Knowing how to create defensible space can potentially save your home and property.

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

0-5 feet around your home
or to property line

This zone is the most important zone as it refers to the area nearest your home 0’-5’ including surfaces of the structure itself and all areas under and around attached decks. 

  • Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles that could catch embers.
  • Reduce embers that could pass through vents in the eaves by installing 1/8 inch metal mesh screening.
  • Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches

0-30 feet around your home
or to property line

This zone extends from your homes exterior walls to a distance of 30’ including other structures, decks, and your property line.

  • Clear vegetation from under large stationary propane tanks 
  • Keep lawns and native grasses mowed to a height of four inches and create fuel breaks with driveways, walkways/paths, patios, and decks.
  • Remove ladder fuels (vegetation under trees) so a surface fire cannot reach the crowns.

30 - 100 feet around your home
or to property line

This zone extends 30’ to at least 100’. More defensible space may be required based on topography, vegetation, or building construction.

  • Dispose of heavy accumulations of ground litter/debris.
  • Remove dead plant and tree material.
  • Remove vegetation adjacent to storage sheds or other outbuildings within this area.

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.

Defensible Space Handout