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February 8, 2013

Tip of the Week


Wildfire season is closing in

Hundreds of homes across Colorado were lost last year to wildfires.

Colo_wildfire The continued drought and dry conditions have both homeowners and fire fighters anxious about what could be ahead for 2013.  As we learned last year in the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, even suburban neighborhoods are not immune.

As winter turns into an early spring, plan ahead for the steps you can take to protect your home if you live in or near a potentially threatened area.  And if you're a city dweller, consider which steps could be useful for your home as living in a city is no guarantee that houses won't catch fire from outdoor hazards or accidents.

Maintain defensible space
Research has shown that 80% of home losses from wildfires are from embers, often launched � to � mile ahead of a fire and sometimes as much as 1 mile away.  Maintaining your property to have less flammable material that can be ignited by embers, especially the space within 15 feet of the home, becomes crucial.

Here are the critical steps to keep fires from igniting on your property and also to provide space where firefighters can work safely to defend your home:
  • Remove flammable plants and shrubs from the site.  This includes all dead trees and shrubs.  Also remove "ladder fuels," which are shrubs and small trees that grow under larger trees, to prevent fires from climbing.
  • Reduce flammable debris such as dead branches in trees and debris on the ground such as leaves and pine needles that easily ignite.  Remember to clean gutters regularly to keep them free of the same debris.   Keep grasses and weeds mowed to a height of 6 inches within 30 feet of structures.
  • Replace flammable plants and mulch with less flammable ones.  For example, replace a stand of low-moisture shrubs with a bed of perennials.  Also remove bark mulch and use gravel instead. 
Use firewise plants that retain more moisture and are not so quick to ignite.  Here are some plant tips:
  • Low-growing ground covers such as Corsican violet and yellow-leaved thyme provide color without height.
  • Low-growing sedum varieties need little maintenance or pruning.
  • Perennials and herbaceous plants are firewise.  Among CSU's recommendations are basket-of-gold, blanket flower, hardy geranium, lavender, blue mist penstemon and culinary sage.
  • Firewise shrubs include Oregon grape holly, little leaf mountain mahogany, true mountain mahogany and golden currant.  
  • For large trees and shrubs, avoid trees that have flammable resins and select ones that hold moisture:  aspen, green ash, crabapple, common lilac or chokecherry, for example.  
Finally, work with a local landscape pro who understands firewise landscaping principles and who can select the proper plant materials for your plant hardiness zone.

Need help creating and maintaining defensible space?  Find a Pro from the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado with members in six chapters statewide.

Photo courtesy National Geographic

Other helpful information on defensible spaces

CSU Extension Service
 Fact sheets 

Colorado State Forest Service






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