Defensible space key to saving homes |

Defensible space key to saving homes

by JoAnne Skelly
A sign along Highway 395 thanks firefighters for their work on the Numbers Fire.
Kurt Hildebrand

Watching the news on the Numbers Fire south of Gardnerville reminds us how important it is to create and maintain defensible space around your home. The fire burned 18,380 acres in the week it took to get it contained. Have you taken responsibility to make your home/landscape defensible and survivable?

Northern Nevada is a high fire hazard environment. Our arid climate, highly-ignitable native vegetation and non-native invasive plants such as cheatgrass, as well as climate and topography mean we burn hot and quickly as the Numbers Fire substantiates. There aren’t enough fire trucks and fire-fighting personnel to defend every home, so it is up to homeowners to do the work to make a property defensible and then to maintain it. What you do with the ornamental and native vegetation on your property can make a difference. More houses burn due to embers than any other cause.

Home survival during wildfire is greatly influenced by the characteristics of the vegetation growing adjacent to the house. Create a Noncombustible Area at least 5 feet wide around the base of your home with a low potential for ignition from flying embers. Use irrigated herbaceous plants (lawn, ground cover and flowers), rock mulches, or hard surfaces (concrete, brick and pavers) in this area. Keep it free of woodpiles, wood mulches, dead plants, dried leaves and needles, flammable shrubs (sagebrush and juniper) and debris.

Ideally, the area within at least 30 feet of the house should emphasize landscape plants that are difficult to ignite by burning embers, and if ignited, do not produce sufficient heat to ignite the house. These plants should be routinely maintained to keep them healthy, vigorous and free of the dead material. Cultural practices, such as location of plants, maintenance and irrigation, are as important as plant species selection in terms of wildfire threat reduction. Plants that are considered to be good choices can become fire hazards through neglect.

Remove dead vegetation, such as fallen leaves, needles, dead branches, dried grass and dry flowers, prior to and throughout fire season. Keep a minimum 10-foot separation between tree canopies at maturity. The canopy of mature trees should not be within 10 feet of the house. Remove low tree branches to a height of at least 10 feet. Also remove small trees and shrubs from under the tree canopy. This will help prevent a surface fire from reaching the tree canopy and spreading embers. Irrigate sufficiently to keep plants green during fire season.

For information: