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Now is the time to think firewise

Don’t let fires take you by surprise

Even though we are coming out of one of the coldest weeks in March on record, it is not too soon to start planning for wildfire protection. As the Marshall Wildfire proves, fires that claim hundreds of homes don’t just happen in the heat of summer. Prevention against fire anytime during the year starts with planning now—particularly how to plant and maintain your landscape this spring.

As winter turns into an early spring, create defensible space to protect your home, particularly if you live in or near a potentially threatened area. Research has shown that 80% of home losses from wildfires are from embers, often launched ¼ to ½ mile ahead of a fire and sometimes as much as 1 mile away. It is crucial to maintain your property with less flammable material that can’t be ignited by embers, especially the space within 15 feet of the home.

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 from a wildfire:

  • 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 and can enable fire to climb up and into structures.
  • 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.

Add to or replace your landscape with firewise plants that retain more moisture and are not so quick to ignite.

Here are some recommendations:

  • 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 are good choices.

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