FIRE SAFE LANDSCAPE DESIGN

Firescaping is landscape design that reduces house and property vulnerability to wildfire. The goal is to develop a landscape whose design and choice of plants offers the best fire protection and enhances the property. The ideal is to surround the house with things that are less likely to burn. It is imperative that when building homes in wildfire-prone areas that fire safety be a major factor in landscape design. Appropriate manipulation of the landscape can make a significant contribution towards wildfire survival.

In firescaping, plant selection is primarily determined by a plant's ability to reduce the wildfire threat. Other considerations may be important such as appearance, ability to hold the soil in place, and wildlife habitat value. The traditional foundation planting of junipers is not a viable solution in a firescape design.

Minimize use of evergreen shrubs and trees within 30 feet of a structure, because junipers, other conifers and broadleaf evergreens contain oils, resins and waxes that make these plants bum with great intensity. Use ornamental grasses and berries sparingly because they also can be highly flammable.
Chose "fire smart" plants. These are plants with a high moisture content. They are low growing. Their stems and leaves are not resinous, oily or waxy.

Firescape design uses driveways, lawns, walkways, patios, parking areas, areas with inorganic mulches, and fences constructed of nonflammable materials such as rock, brick, or cement to reduce fuel loads and create fuel breaks. Fuel breaks are a vital component in every firescape design. Water features, pools, ponds or streams can also be fuel breaks. Areas where wildland vegetation has been thinned or replaced with less flammable plants are the traditional fuelbreak. Remember, while bare ground is effective from the wildfire viewpoint, it is not promoted as a firescape element due to aesthetic, soil erosion,
and other concerns.

A home located on a brushy site above a south or west facing slope will require more extensive wildfire safety landscape planning than a house situated on a flat lot with little vegetation around it.
Boulders and rocks become fire retardant elements in a design. Whether or of hardscape (concrete, asphalt, wood decks, etc.), plant selection and placement. Prevailing winds, seasonal weather, local fire history, and characteristics of native vegetation surrounding the site are additional important considerations.

The area closest to a structure out to 30 ft will be the highest water use area in the fire safe landscape. This is an area where highly flammable fuels are kept to a minimum and plants are kept green throughout the fire season. Use well-irrigated perennials here. Another choice is low growing or non-woody deciduous plants. Lawn is soothing visually, and is also practical as a wildfire safety feature. Rock mulches are good choices.

Patios, masonry or rock planters are excellent fuel breaks and increase wildfire safety.
Be creative with boulders, riprap, dry streambeds and sculptural inorganic elements. When designing a landscape for fire safety, remember less is better. Simplify visual lines and groupings. A firesafe landscape lets plants and garden elements reveal their innate beauty by leaving space between plants and groups of plants.

Lawn can be an effective firescape feature. But extensive areas of turfgrass may not be right for everyone. Some good alternatives include clover, groundcovers, and conservation grasses that are
kept green during the fire season through irrigation.