"Every Yard Counts:" Best wildfire protection practices for landscape professionals

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To create a firewise landscape, remember the primary goal is fuel reduction.

Is your landscape lean, green, and clean? Idaho Firewise is working with community organizations, local landscaping companies, and nurseries to promote effective landscaping for wildfire risk reduction.

Through the "Every Yard Counts" campaign, Idaho Firewise is training local nurseries, gardeners, and the general public on the principles of wildlife behavior and how to design landscapes to create survivable space. Idaho Firewise offering classes that will include tours of their demonstration garden. (Sign up for free on Idaho Firewise's Facebook page.)

Local nurseries that have already completed the program include D&B Supply, Draggin' Wing High Desert Nursery, Franz Witte Nursery, and Zamzows. And if you're looking for a landscaper to hire, Idaho Firewise has supplied a full list of certified professionals on their site.

While nothing beats taking the "Every Yard Counts" course and seeing the demonstration garden in person, Idaho Firewise has provided a complete landscaping checklist on their site for everybody to take note of.

When designing and installing a firewise landscape, consider the following:

  • Local area fire history
  • Site location and overall terrain
  • Prevailing winds and seasonal weather
  • Property contours and boundaries
  • Native vegetation
  • Plant characteristics and placement
  • Irrigation requirements

To create a firewise landscape, remember that the primary goal is fuel reduction. To this end, initiate the zone concept. Zone 1 is closest to the structure; Zones 2-3 move progressively further away.

  • Zone 1: The first 30 feet. The ignition zone begins with a structure and extends 3- feet out in all directions. Aside from the roof, the first 30- feet surrounding your home and outbuildings present the highest wildfire risk.

In Zone 1, it is crucial to take steps to decrease and/or eliminate ignition potential. Plantings should be limited to carefully-spaced, low-flammability species - if used at all. Once at-risk plants have been removed, replace them with low-growing, low-ignition plant materials, well-watered turf, and/or non-flammable mulch. Be sure to also remove combustible materials, such as bark and leaf/needle litter, as they accumulate.

  • Zone 2: 30 - 100 feet. Low flammability plant materials should be used here. Plants should be low-growing, and the irrigation system should extend into this section. Zone 2, the "pruned and groomed" section, should consist of a well-maintained greenbelt. You should surround islands of low-ignition plant materials with rock or brick retaining walls and/or well-watered turf. Be sure to place firewood and propane tanks on gravel or concrete pads at least 30-feet away from structures, and surround them with non-flammable fencing.
  • Zone 3: 100 feet and beyond. Zone 3 is composed of native vegetation. Keep trees spaced apart, separated by a 10-by-10-foot or 12-by-12-foot spacing. If possible, remove highly flammable vegetation and replace it with low-ignition species. Maintain Zone 3 bi-yearly for the safest results.

Also remember to leave a minimum of 30' around the house to accommodate fire equipment, and if necessary:

  • Widely space and carefully situate the trees you plant.
  • Take out the "ladder fuels" vegetation that serves as a link between grass and treetops. This arrangement can carry fire to a structure or from a structure to vegetation.
  • Give yourself added protection with "fuel breaks" like driveways, gravel walkways, and lawns.

When maintaining a landscape:

  • Keep trees and shrubs properly pruned. Prune all trees so the lowest limbs are 6' to 10' from the ground.
  • Remove leaf clutter and dead and overhanging branches.
  • Mow the lawn regularly.
  • Dispose of cuttings and debris promptly, according to local regulations.
  • Store firewood away from the house.
  • Be sure the irrigation system is well maintained.
  • Use care when refueling garden equipment and maintain it regularly.
  • Store and use flammable liquids properly.
  • Dispose of smoking materials carefully.
  • Become familiar with local regulations regarding vegetation clearances, disposal of debris, and fire safety requirements for equipment.
  • Follow manufacturers' instructions when using fertilizers and pesticides.

Idaho Firewise is a non-profit organization that develops and promotes statewide wildfire education for those who live in or visit Idaho. To learn more about wildfire prevention and protection, visit www.idahofirewise.org.