|9. Fire Mitigation
Wildland/Urban Interface Overview
Over the past century, America's population has nearly tripled, with
much of the growth flowing into traditionally natural areas. This
trend has created an extremely complex landscape that has come
to be known as the wildland/urban interface (WUI): a situation
under which a wildfire reaches beyond trees, brush, and other
natural fuels to ignite homes and their immediate surroundings.
Consequently, in many areas of the country, the WUI can provide
conditions favorable for the spread of wildfires and ongoing threats
to homes and people. Many individuals move into these picturesque
landscapes with urban expectations. They may not recognize
wildfire hazards or might assume that the fire department will be
able to save their home if a wildfire threatens.
However, when a wildfire spreads, it can simultaneously expose dozens - sometimes hundreds - of homes to potential ignition. In situations such as this, firefighters often do not have the resources
to defend every home. Homeowners who take proactive steps to reduce their homes' vulnerability
have a far greater chance of having their homes withstand a wildfire.
A critical element of any WUI outreach project is to help the public understand wildland fire and the
challenges it presents in the WUI. While individuals who live in the WUI may realize that wildland
fire is part of their ecosystem, it is not universally understood that residents and communities must
take proactive steps on their own to reduce their vulnerability. In addition, many who are aware of
mitigation efforts lack the motivation to take action and often do not see the value of making such
Motivating individual residents and communities to mitigate their risk is a significant task. There are
a number of resources available, including the national Firewise Communities program, Community
Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP), and regional and local programs such as Fire Safe Councils or
The interface is made up of three types of configurations.
- The "classic" interface is a result of urban sprawl. Homes and structures are placed in
direct contact with wildland, and the inhabitants often have come directly from urban areas.
- The "intermix" interface occurs when single or clustered homes and other structures are
scattered throughout a wildland area, e.g., summer homes, suburban homes on large tracts
of land, and isolated recreation areas, such as cabins, mobile homes, and camping facilities.
Many individual structures are often surrounded by woodland vegetation, and are served
only by narrow roads, making it very difficult to reach these areas if fires occur.
- The "occluded" interface consists of islands of wildland within an urban area, such as a
city park, or land considered unsuitable (e.g., too steep) for a structure. The threat of fire in
these areas is low, but when fires break out here, there can be a substantial risk to
surrounding structures and to those who use the natural areas.
WUI Fire Concerns
There are a number of concerns we face in the WUI. WUI fires tend to be more damaging than
urban structural fires, are often more difficult to control, and behave differently than structural fires.
Other concerns include:
- Interface areas are likely to be increasingly flammable because of intensive suppression of
fires in the past.
- Fires ignite indirectly in structures, and directly from accidental causes related to recreational
and commercial use of the wildland. When these fires occur, people and structures must
take priority, often at a devastating expense to natural resources. People who live in these
areas often come directly from urban areas, and may bring with them careless habits and
little understanding about wildland fire cycles and dangers.
- Homes and other structures are built and maintained in a manner which leaves them and
their occupants vulnerable. Thus, wildland fires become a significant threat to both humans
and natural resources.
- Structural firefighters are trained and equipped differently than wildland firefighters. Urban
firefighters rely on the water systems provided in urban settings, and count on catching the
fire in its early stages. Often, neither of these situations exists in the WUI. Wildland
firefighters have no ready water supply except what they transport to the site. They also
anticipate larger fires, and are thus trained to fight the fire from its perimeter, clearing fuel
to prevent spread.
Who's Responsible for Addressing the Problem?
There is considerable debate about who should take responsibility
for this unique problem, and what can be done about it. Some
believe that homeowners should take the most responsibility. In
other words, some argue the risk-takers should pay for their
decision to live in a potentially dangerous interface area, by paying
more taxes and by taking precautions around their property.
Realtors have the responsibility to disclose the fire hazard
possibilities. Designers and developers also need to take more
responsibility. However, critics argue that making the necessary
economic investments would be impossible for some residents, and
others are unwilling to modify their home and surroundings for fear
of compromising the rustic look.
Others assert that the whole community should take responsibility for the hazards. Property owners
should be encouraged to make their own land fire resistant and defensible, and community
governments should create, promote, and enforce fire-safety laws and adequate zoning codes.
Community planners also need to understand and foresee how population growth, use patterns, and
changing demographics will influence and contribute to the interface problem. Insurance companies
should provide incentives and disincentives that encourage homeowners to take risk-reducing
measures. Fire protection agencies should be more aggressive in effectively communicating the
problem, consequences, and solutions of interface fires. However, critics fear that the community
approach ignores the natural environment and its protection, and only concentrates on people and
structures. There is also skepticism about getting all of the involved parties to work together.
Land management agencies have also been called upon to take a more active role in helping to
control the problem by reducing fuel around interface areas regularly, so that fires are easier to
manage and control. They may also rely on a prescribed fire regimen, but these carry some
elements of risk. The concepts of "not in my backyard" and smoke impacts restrict options. In reality, residents must understand that fire and resulting smoke will
occur on the site; the question is will it occur under a controlled,
prescribed burn or as a conflagration. However, a regimen that
involves both land management agencies and private landowners
cooperating to maintain reduced fuel around structures could be
much less destructive, more cost-efficient than suppressing fires,
and much safer.
Though a comprehensive solution to the wildland/urban interface
problem may not be immediately forthcoming, there are several
simple and relatively inexpensive precautions the private
homeowner can take to reduce the risk.
When talking about wildfire mitigation, it is important to acknowledge that fire is a natural process,
and it will occur. However, those who choose to live in the WUI can take action to reduce wildfire
vulnerability to their citizens, homes, and essential infrastructure and resources.
The following key messages have been developed by the NWCG
Wildland/Urban Interface Working Team. For the most updated
information, visit: www.firewise.org.
- Through community planning and preparedness, wildfires
can occur without catastrophic loss.
Wildfire is an essential, natural process. Under the right
conditions, wildfires can occur in almost any area of the
country. But homes don't have to burn.
- Wildfires are going to occur. It is not a matter of if - it is a
matter of when.
Wildfires can occur anywhere that conditions such as fire-prone vegetation and patterns
of dry and windy weather exist.
These conditions can be found nearly anywhere in the U.S. at some point during a
Wildfires may even make it impossible for firefighters to get to your property when fire is
- There are no guarantees that a home/community will be fireproof. But if you take action to
be firewise, you can greatly increase the chances that your home/community will withstand
The most successful approach incorporates efforts of homeowners, communities, and
businesses, along with federal and state agencies, tribes, and fire departments.
A comprehensive approach to wildfire preparedness involves sound land use planning,
creative mitigation measures, supportive infrastructure, collaborative decision making,
and effective emergency response.
Know the community and be sensitive to its needs.
- Reassure them that the state/federal government is not
going to come in and remove vegetation on their property.
- Reassure them that "Firewise" does not mean "ugly."
- Encourage the community that they can still have privacy,
woods, views, etc.
- Use specific examples.
Identify local wildland fire risks and address hazards.
- Use plain language and avoid jargon.
If technical terms are necessary, explain them.
- Mitigate = Reduce risk, hazard, or vulnerability
- Canopy/crowns = Tops of trees or other tallest vegetation
- Firebrands = Burning embers
Engage home-related industry professionals, such as architects, landscapers, landscape architects,
community planners, home construction and remodeling, home improvement retailers, insurance
industry representatives, Red Cross, emergency management services.
- Initiate regular communication:
Firewise presentations during meetings
Include relevant Firewise information in their client mailings
Spokespersons for local media, byline articles for trade publications, letters to local
officials, letters to the editor, op-eds, etc.
National Firewise Communities Program
The fire season of 1985 motivated wildfire agencies and
organizations to focus on local solutions to wildfire risks in WUI
areas by forming what is now the Firewise Communities program,
directed by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's
Wildland/Urban Interface Working Team (WUIWT), a consortium of
representatives from federal and state wildland fire agencies and
The Firewise Communities program is designed to reach beyond
the fire service to involve homeowners, community leaders,
planners, developers, and others in the effort to protect people,
property, and natural resources from wildfire - before the fire
starts. This approach emphasizes community responsibility for the
design and maintenance of a safe community, including sound land
use planning, creative mitigation measures, supportive
infrastructure, collaborative decision making, and effective
The Firewise Communities program serves as a resource for
agencies, tribes, organizations, fire departments, and communities
across the U.S. who are working toward a common goal: reduce
loss of lives, property, and resources to wildfire by building and
maintaining communities in a way that is compatible with our
Originally coined in 1992 by a botanist, the term "firewise"
describes the state of being knowledgeable and prepared for
wildfire in residential or urban settings. While the national program
carries the title "Firewise Communities," there are thousands of local
and regional efforts that are committed to this concept. The Firewise
Communities program is designed to support and complement these
efforts - it does not conflict or compete with them.
Resources for State Forestry Agencies
The Firewise Communities program offers a number of resources to state forestry agencies,
including support for local workshops, an interactive website (www.firewise.org), educational tools,
and support for fire organizations and community groups.
Of particular interest to state forestry agencies is the Firewise Communities/USA program, which
recognizes residential developments that take action to mitigate their wildfire risk. Communities that
meet the program's criteria are encouraged to apply for national recognition through their state
forestry agency. Large organized efforts, such as county-wide Fire Safe Councils, can help foster
the creation of Firewise Communities/USA sites within their neighborhoods, subdivisions, and other
The Firewise Communities/USA program can be an incentive for
communities working on a CWPP. Firewise Communities/USA is a
nationwide program to recognize communities that maintain an
appropriate level of fire readiness. State forestry organizations help
administer the program at the state and local level.
Communities can earn Firewise Communities/USA status by
meeting the following criteria:
- Have a WUI specialist complete a community
assessment, and create a plan that identifies achievable
solutions to be implemented by the community.
- Sponsor a local Firewise committee, council or board that
maintains the Firewise Communities/USA program and
tracks its progress.
- Observe a Firewise Communities/USA Day annually that is
dedicated to a local Firewise project.
- Invest a minimum of $2 per capita annually in Firewise
projects. Work by municipal employees or volunteers using
municipal and other equipment can be included, as can
state and federal grants dedicated to that purpose.
- Submit an annual report to Firewise Communities/USA that
documents continuing compliance with the program.
This program is of special interest to small communities and
neighborhood associations that are willing to mitigate against
wildfire by adopting and implementing programs tailored to their
needs. The communities create these programs themselves with
cooperative assistance from state forestry agencies and local fire
officials. Contact your state forestry office or visit the Firewise
Communities/USA Web site (www.firewise.org/usa) to find out
more about how to begin the assessment process.
Firewise Community Projects
Firewise community projects can be as varied as the residents' imaginations. Following are just a
few examples of what neighborhoods can do to protect their communities from wildfire.
- Host a "Chipping Day" for residents to remove excess
vegetation from their property, as well as community
- Hold a pine needle or debris removal day in cooperation
with the local fire department.
- Hold a Firewise education day that provides information
about proper landscaping and construction choices,
introduces local staff, and distributes pertinent Firewise
information to the community.
- Create a fuel removal project that uses local volunteers.
- Place articles in the local paper about fire season and the
need for your community to be prepared for it. Showcase
- Conduct Firewise landscaping and construction information
sessions at a local home improvement store.
- Modify homeowner association covenants to include
- Utilize local fire officials to conduct a wildfire hazard overview at a community meeting.
- Distribute Firewise information at community festivals.
- Include homeowner tips in community newsletters.
- Conduct Firewise information sessions at neighborhood association meetings.
- Conduct homeowner Firewise assessments in cooperation with the local fire department.
Community Wildfire Protection Plans
The idea for community-based forest planning and prioritization is
neither novel nor new. However, the incentive for communities to
engage in comprehensive wildfire planning and prioritization was
given new and unprecedented impetus with the enactment of the
Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) in 2003.
This landmark legislation includes the first meaningful statutory
incentives for the US Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land
Management (BLM) to give consideration to the priorities of local
communities as the agencies develop and implement forest
management and hazardous fuel reduction projects.
In order for a community to take full advantage of this new
opportunity, it must first prepare a Community Wildfire Protection
Plan (CWPP). Local CWPP's can take a variety of forms, based on
the needs of the people involved in their development. CWPP's may
be designed to address issues such as wildfire response, hazard
mitigation, community preparedness, or structure protection - or all
The process of developing a CWPP can help a community clarify
and refine its priorities for the protection of life, property, and
critical infrastructure in the WUI. It also can lead community
members through valuable discussions regarding management
options and implications for the surrounding forested lands.
The language of HFRA provides maximum flexibility for communities to determine the substance and
detail of their plans and the procedures they will use to develop them. Because the legislation is
general in nature, some communities may benefit from assistance on how to prepare such a plan.
This section is intended to provide communities with a concise, step-by-step guide to use in
developing a CWPP. It addresses, in a straightforward manner, issues such as who to involve in
developing a plan, how to convene other interested parties, what elements to consider in assessing
community risks and priorities, and how to develop a mitigation or protection plan to address those
This guide is not a legal document, although the recommendations contained here carefully conform
to both the spirit and the letter of the HFRA. It offers one of several possible approaches to
planning. It should prove useful in helping communities establish recommendations and priorities
that protect their citizens, homes, and essential infrastructure and resources from wildfire.
Communities and the WUI
The WUI has been described as the zone where structures and other human development meet and
intermingle with undeveloped wildland or vegetative fuels. This zone poses risks to life, property,
and infrastructure and is one of the most dangerous and complicated situations firefighters face.
Both the National Fire Plan and the Ten-Year Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Wildland Fire
Risks to Communities and the Environment place a priority on working collaboratively within WUI
communities to reduce their risk from wildfire.
The HFRA builds on existing efforts to restore healthy forest conditions near communities and
essential community infrastructure by authorizing expedited environmental assessment,
administrative appeals, and legal review for hazardous fuels projects on federal land.
The Act emphasizes the need for federal agencies to work collaboratively with communities in
developing hazardous fuel reduction projects, and it places priority on treatment areas identified by
communities themselves in their CWPP.
Role of Community Wildfire Protection Plans
The HFRA provides communities with a tremendous opportunity to
influence where and how federal agencies implement fuel reduction
projects on federal lands and how additional federal funds may be
distributed for projects on nonfederal lands. A CWPP is the most
effective way to take advantage of this opportunity. CWPP's can
take a variety of forms, based on the needs of those involved. They
can be as simple or complex as a community desires.
The minimum requirements for a CWPP, as described in the HFRA
1. Collaboration: A CWPP must be collaboratively developed
by local and state government representatives, in
consultation with federal agencies and other interested
2. Prioritized Fuel Reduction: A CWPP must identify and
prioritize areas for hazardous fuel reduction treatments and
recommend the types and methods of treatment that will
protect one or more communities and its essential
infrastructure from wildfires.
3. Treatment of Structural Ignitability: A CWPP must
recommend measures that homeowners and communities
can take to reduce the ignitability of structures throughout
the area addressed by the plan.
The HFRA requires that three entities must mutually agree
to the final contents of a CWPP:
- The applicable local government (i.e., counties or
- The local fire department(s)
- The state entity responsible for forest management
In addition, these entities are directed to consult with and involve
local representatives of the USFS and BLM and other interested parties or persons in the
development of the plan. The process is intended to be open and collaborative, involving local and
state officials, federal land managers, and the broad range of interested stakeholders. If a
community already has a plan that meets these requirements, the community need not develop an
additional plan for the purposes of the HFRA.
Benefits to Communities
In the context of the HFRA, a CWPP offers a variety of benefits to communities at risk from wildland
fire. Among those benefits is the opportunity to establish a localized definition and boundary of their
In the absence of a CWPP, the HFRA limits the WUI's boundary to within 1/2 mile of a community's
boundary or within 1 1/2 miles when mitigating circumstances exist, such as sustained steep slopes
or geographic features aiding in creating a fire break. Fuel treatments can occur along evacuation
routes regardless of their distance from the community. At least 50 percent of all funds appropriated
for projects under the HFRA must be used within the WUI.
In addition to giving communities the flexibility to define their own WUI, the HFRA also gives priority
to projects and treatment areas identified in a CWPP, by directing federal agencies to give specific
consideration to fuel reduction projects that implement those plans. If a federal agency proposes a
fuel treatment project in an area addressed by a CWPP but identifies a different treatment method,
the agency must also evaluate the community's recommendation as part of the project's
environmental assessment process.
A guide with step-by-step recommendations for preparing a CWPP is available online at
http://www.safnet.org/publications/cwpp_oct08.pdf. These recommendations are intended to
help communities develop a CWPP that addresses the core elements of community protection. Items
required under the HFRA are addressed, as are some additional issues that often are incorporated
into wildfire protection planning. Actions beyond those listed in the legislation are not required for
the purposes of the HFRA.
Fire Safe Councils, Firewise Councils and Boards
An example of regional cooperative approach to fire safety is the Fire Safe Council program in
California. Much like Firewise Communities which have Firewise Boards or Firewise Councils, a Fire
Safe Council is a coalition of public and private sector organizations working to help local
communities mobilize residents to reduce the wildfire vulnerability of their homes and
Fire Safe Councils, Firewise Councils or Boards may be formed with the specific task of addressing
the fire safety issue in their area, but must be committed to carrying out the tasks they identify.
Another option is to leverage established groups such as homeowners associations, chambers of
commerce, or rotary clubs to serve the Fire Safe Council, Firewise Council or Board role.
State Level Fire Safe Council
The California Fire Safe Council's mission is to preserve and enhance California's resources by
providing leadership and support that mobilizes all Californians to protect their homes, communities
and environment from wildfires.
Since its formation in April 1993, the Council has united diverse membership to speak with one voice
about fire safety. The Council has distributed fire prevention education materials to industry leaders
and their constituents, evaluated legislation pertaining to fire safety and empowered grassroots
organizations to spearhead fire safety programs.
At the statewide level, the Fire Safe Council is made up of numerous members who have a vested
interest in decreasing losses from fire, and preserving natural and man-made resources. Possible
activities include the following.
- The statewide chapter can help form local fire safe councils.
- The statewide Fire Safe Council can provide contacts in the community who will participate
in organizing efforts.
- If an existing organization is used to address the fire problem, the Fire Safe Council can help
by providing information about possible funding sources for fire safe projects.
- The Fire Safe Council can identify programs presently underway.
Conducting a Local/Regional Firewise Workshop
The national Firewise Communities program supports regional and local organizations interested in
hosting a one-day Firewise Communities workshop using materials supplied by the national
program. These dynamic workshops prepare participants to recognize WUI fire hazards, make
homes and landscapes more resistant to wildfire, deliver fire education to residents, and incorporate
Firewise planning into existing and developing areas of communities.
Local Firewise Communities workshops can feature interactive discussions, mapping, and
simulations. The workshops are most successful when they are attended by a variety of community
representatives, such as elected leaders, planners, business leaders, homeowner association
members, and emergency service professionals.
Visit www.firewise.org to order the 4-CD set that contains the Firewise Communities workshop
materials and the GIS-based community scenario.
Criteria for conducting a local Firewise workshop:
Workshops meeting the following criteria are eligible to have participants receive certificates from
the national Firewise Communities program office.
Local workshop coordinator must have attended a national workshop or have been trained as a
coordinator or facilitator at a state-run Firewise workshop.
- Local workshop coordinator must use the 4-CD set that contains the Firewise Communities
workshop materials and the GIS-based community scenario.
- The workshop must include the following sessions:
Presentation of Firewise concepts.
Introduction of simulation exercise.
Completion of several specified tasks.
A closing and summary Q&A session.
Total workshop minimum time, 300 min.
Alternately, a "Living on the Edge" community leaders workshop provided by your state forestry
agency qualifies as an equivalent workshop program. The workshop content and materials used for
these workshops is distributed by the Firewise Communities program. Visit http://www.itminfo.com/lote/ to learn more about the Living on the Edge workshops, including whether your state
is offering workshops and how to register.
Organizing a Firewise Workshop
Workshop Steering Committee
The Firewise Communities program's strength lies in its approach. The program encourages
residents to work together as a community, along with local fire officials, builders, community
planners, and developers, and others. Establishing a Workshop Steering Committee composed of
representatives from the target participant list is a good way to begin outreach to these professions
or segments of the community. Outreach to organizations and companies that have an interest in
the wildland/urban interface is critical.
Develop an invitation list that includes a variety of professions, such
as homeowner associations, builders associations, city planners,
landscape architects, engineers, architects, developers, fire
suppression and mitigation professionals, lawyers, Red Cross, local
city officials, utility companies, etc. Consider reaching out to
professional organizations and encourage participation by their
members. Remember, invite more than capacity. Some will not be
able to attend. See the sample invitation letter below.
Registration mailings and calls should start as soon as the workshop coordinator is identified and the
date is confirmed. Invitation packets should be mailed at least four to six weeks prior to the
workshop. Don't rely on mail alone. Follow up with personal phone calls to encourage participation.
Invitation packets should include:
- Cover letter that summarizes the workshop and invites the
recipient to attend.
- Registration form with space for participant's name,
organization, address, e-mail, and phone number. Also
include specific directions for returning the registration
form, including your phone number, address, e-mail, and
- Length of workshop and, if possible, an agenda.
- Dress code and list of items a participant should bring.
- Map to the workshop location.
Location and Logistics
The location for the workshop should have a general session room and breakout rooms for a
working group (a good rule of thumb for the size of a working group is between 12 and 16 people).
The available space at your workshop location, as well as the number of facilitators you have
available for the breakout sessions, will dictate the maximum number of people who can participate.
Providing lunch is a good way to facilitate networking among the groups. Workshop coordinators
should review the logistics checklist (below) for more considerations about workshop location and
Workshop coordinators are encouraged to work with local media to
share the Firewise message. Consider making someone available to
speak with the media, should they request it.
Speakers and Facilitators
Plan on scheduling one local speaker who can address the local
wildfire situation, plan to have two facilitators for each breakout
A workshop participant database is available on the Firewise Communities Web site
(www.firewise.org/communities). The database contains potential instructors or speakers who have
participated in national workshops. In addition, you may contact the Firewise Communities program
staff for ideas for speakers.
Workshop materials are available free of charge from the Firewise Communities program office
(there is a small shipping fee, however). Please allow at least one month for delivery of materials.
Materials include: participant workbooks, CDs, copies of informational brochures. In addition, you
may order videotapes and DVDs on the Firewise Web site (www.firewise.org/catalog). Give-away
items such as lapel pins and magnets are also available at cost and can be ordered on this site
under Firewise Outfitters.
The Firewise Communities program has provided a number of Firewise exhibit displays to workshop
coordinators around the country. They measure approximately 8 feet wide by 4 feet tall and are to
be used as a tabletop display. These are available on request to be loaned for local workshops or
other outreach activities. Check with Firewise program staff for a list of the locations and contacts
for the Firewise exhibit displays.
If the workshop is conducted according to specific guidelines outlined by the national Firewise
Communities program, the workshop coordinator can submit a list of participants to the national
Firewise Communities program office and certificates documenting continuing education units will be
awarded to participants. More information is available at
Firewise Communities Workshop Logistics
Large room for general sessions
Small rooms for breakout sessions
Name tags and holders
Registration packets, including:
Writing tablets and pencils for participants
Firewise Communities Workshop Participant Workbook
Firewise lapel pins (can be ordered at cost at www.firewise.org)
Firewise Around Your Home brochure
Firewise CD set #1 and #2
List of workshop participants, including facilitators and speakers
Adequate number of chairs
Power strip and extension cord
Flip chart/magic markers
Breakout sessions: (you will need as many of the items below as the total number of
Tables and chairs for 12-16 in each room
Projector and screen
Flip chart/magic markers
Power strip and extension cord
Available restroom directions
Paper products and drinks
Delivery of lunch to workshop location
Tables for refreshments, such as coffee and tea
Road signs to direct participants to workshop and/or parking
Room signs to direct participants to breakout sessions
Home Ignition Zones - Resident Communication
When communicating with residents about the home ignition zone,
it is helpful to give a brief overview of how homes ignited as a
result of a wildfire - without going into too much technical detail
that will lose their interest. Following is sample text for including in
communication materials for residents regarding the home ignition
How Homes Ignite
Wildfires are much less likely to ignite a home if the home has
been prepared with simple landscaping, construction, and
maintenance methods such as those recommended by the national
Firewise Communities program.
The information outlines steps you, your family, and your
community can take to prepare for potential wildfires. The first step
is to look at the climate, vegetation, and terrain of your community
to determine the hazards facing your property. The following
categories are general descriptions of hazards that will help guide
you when deciding how to best protect your home. Not all
characteristics must be present. The category that most closely
resembles the characteristics of your area determines your hazard
level. For information about hazard assessment of your area,
contact your local fire department or state forestry office.
Landscape: Lean, Clean, and Green Landscape
Landscaping is among the first elements of a home that others
notice. The balance of colorful plants, trees, shrubs, rocks, mulch,
and other landscaping materials helps establish a home's
personality, and it can enhance the beauty and value of any
property. If managed effectively, landscaping can also serve as a
fuel break, protecting a home in the event of a wildfire. The
primary goal for Firewise landscaping is fuel reduction - limiting
the level of flammable vegetation and materials surrounding the
home and increasing the moisture content of remaining vegetation.
Firewise landscaping also allows plants and gardens to reveal their
natural beauty by leaving space between individual and groups of
plants and trees.
The Home Ignition Zone
Whether conducting regular maintenance on existing landscaping
or designing a new setting, the following tips can help homeowners
prepare the area surrounding the home for an intense wildfire.
Consider the entire "home ignition zone," which includes the
home and its immediate surroundings within 100 to 200 feet
depending on your hazard area. Firewise Communities divides this
area into three zones, depending on the hazard level for your area.
Assess your landscaping several times a year to ensure that it is lean,
clean, and green.
ZONE 1: (All Hazard Areas)
For all hazard levels, this area should be well-irrigated and free from fuels that may ignite your
home, such as dry vegetation, clutter, and debris. Flammable attachments to the home, such as
wooden decks, fences, and boardwalks, are considered part of the house. The perimeter should
extend beyond these attachments.
- Plants in this area should be limited to carefully spaced plantings that are
low-growing and free of resins, oils, and waxes that burn easily. For a list
of low-flammability vegetation for your area, contact your state forestry
agency, or local landscape specialist.
- Mow the lawn regularly. Prune all trees so the lowest limbs are at least
six to 10 feet from the ground.
- Leave space between the tops of trees to reduce the risk of crown fire.
Remember, trees that hang over the house will deposit leaves and
branches on the house and immediate area.
- Within five feet of the home, use nonflammable landscaping materials,
such as rock, pavers, annuals, and high-moisture-content perennials. Be
sure to remove dead leaves and stems immediately.
- Remove dead vegetation, such as leaves and pine needles from gutters, under your deck,
and within 10 feet of your home. Be sure to keep the area clean of flammable debris.
- This is generally where patio furniture, swing sets, and other accessories are located. If you
live in a moderate to high hazard area, consider fire-resistant material for these accessories,
and be sure to keep the area around them clear of debris. Keep patio cushions inside the
house when not in use during periods of high fire potential.
- Firewood stacks and propane tanks should not be located in this area. Keep them at least 30
feet from the home.
- Water plants and trees regularly to ensure that they are healthy and green, especially during
the fire season. Mulch should also be kept watered, as it can become flammable when dry.
- Consider xeriscaping, especially in areas with low water supply or water-use restrictions.
Xeriscaping is a popular method for conserving water through creative use of landscaping
features that are fire-resistant, yet require limited irrigation. Contact your local nursery or
landscape architect for more information.
ZONE 2: (Moderate and High Hazard Areas)
Plants in this zone should be low-growing, well-irrigated, and less
- Encourage a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees. Most
deciduous trees do not support high-intensity fires.
- Give yourself added protection with "fuel breaks," such as
driveways, gravel walkways, and lawns.
- Prune trees so branches and leaves are at least six to 10 feet
above the ground. Remove heavy accumulations of woody
ZONE 3: (High Hazard Areas)
In high hazard conditions, this area should be thinned out as well, though less space is required
than in Zone 2. Remove heavy accumulation of woody debris, such as piles of stem wood or
branches. Thin trees to remove smaller conifers that are growing
between taller trees. Reduce the density of tall trees so canopies are not
touching to reduce the ability for high-intensity crown fire to reach your
Firewise Home Construction
Even if a landscape is designed in perfect compliance with Firewise
recommendations, fire may still reach your home. For example, heavy
winds can carry firebrands over the tops of trees to land on a roof. If that were to happen to your
home, your home's exterior must play an important role in preventing ignitions that could lead to
total home destruction. Keep in mind that the home ignition zone includes the home, in relation to
its immediate surroundings within 100 to 200 feet.
- Use Rated Roofing Material: The roof can be the part of your home most vulnerable
during wildfires. If firebrands fall on a roof with untreated, non-rated roofing, the entire roof
can ignite, destroying the home. In contrast, roofing material with a Class A, B, or C rating,
such as composition shingle, metal, and clay or cement tile, is fire-resistant and will help
keep the flame from spreading.
- Use Fire-Resistant Building Materials on Exterior Walls: Wall materials that resist
heat and flames include cement, plaster, stucco and masonry, such as concrete, stone, brick
or block. Though some materials, such as vinyl, are difficult to ignite, exposure to extreme
heat causes a loss of integrity. These materials may fall away or melt, providing the
firebrands with a direct path into the home. If your home has vinyl siding, use metal
screening over openings that will become exposed if the siding falls away.
- Use Double-Paned or Tempered Glass: Exposure to the heat of a wildfire can cause
glass on exterior windows to fracture and collapse, allowing firebrands to enter the home.
Double paned glass can help reduce this risk by providing an added layer of protection.
Tempered glass is the most effective option, as it has a higher heat tolerance and is less
likely to break. For skylights, glass is less penetrable than plastic or fiberglass, and plastic
and fiberglass can melt at lower temperatures than glass.
- Enclose Eaves, Fascias, Soffits, and Vents: Eaves, fascias, soffits, and vents should be "boxed" or enclosed with metal screens to reduce the size of the openings, to inhibit the
passage of embers or firebrands into difficult to reach and closed spaces. Ridge and soffit
vent openings should be screened to help prevent firebrands or other objects larger than
1/8" from entering your home.
- Protect Overhangs and Other Attachments: Overhangs and other attachments, such as room additions,
bay windows, decks, porches, carports and fences, are
often very vulnerable to flames or firebrands. Remove all
fuels from around these areas. Consider boxing in the
undersides of the overhangs, decks, and balconies with
noncombustible or fire-resistant materials to reduce the
possibility of ignition. Make sure fences constructed of
flammable materials, such as wood, don't attach directly to
your home. Remember: if it is attached to house, it's part
of your house.