Many people mistakenly believe that peak fire season takes place during the hot summer. Contrary to popular belief, however, September and October are the most vulnerable months for wildfires, with peak fire season running from July-October. The autumn months are most susceptible to wildfire due to the dry, fierce winds that blow across the state. Additionally, while more fires may take place in July, these fires typically result in less damage overall when considering acres burned. Hot and dry summer temperatures followed by little to no rain can contribute to dried vegetation, which causes more destructive fires in September and October.
According to the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection, of the 20 most destructive wildfires in California history, 12 of them took place in September and October. These fires took place as far apart as Napa Valley to San Diego. Northern and Southern California are most susceptible to wildfires during these months.
While it’s completely normal for a person to feel helpless when news of out-of-control fires are broadcast on TV and social media, there are things you and your neighbors can do to minimize the risk of fire damage in your neighborhood.
The way you landscape your yard can fuel or fend off a fire.
It is important to know which plants to add to (and subtract from) your yard this season, and how to plan and create a defensive zone that could keep a wildfire from razing your home.
The best offense is a good defense for fire-resistant landscape.
Defensible space is essential to improve the opportunity of surviving a wildfire and minimizing damage. This unplanted—or properly planted—buffer between a structure and the landscape around it—or any surrounding wildland—is essential to meet today’s WUI requirements.
Defensible space is necessary to slow or stop the spread of wildfire and protect a structure from direct flame contact or radiant heat. It also helps protect firefighters by providing both a barrier and adequate space for access when defending a structure from spreading wildfire.
You should have clear and simple goals when planning and installing a fire-resistant landscape with compliant defensible space. They should include:
- Decrease potential fuel
- Interrupt fire paths
- Install fire-resistant plants
- Comply with local fire department WUI codes + ordinances
The good news is, making a fire-resistant landscape doesn’t have to be unattractive or cost-prohibitive. A fire-resistant landscape can both conserve water and increase property value while improving the aesthetics of just about any location.
Key Considerations When Planning a Fire-Safe Landscape
- Relationship of residence and landscaped area to wild landscape including:
- composition of wild landscape ecosystem
- transition from irrigated, maintained landscape to non-irrigated wild landscape
- level of maintenance required for both
- Site location, access, slope, aspect, soil + water
- Tree + plant spacing
- Fire breaks including vineyards, gravel paths, roads, ponds, swimming pools
- Less fire-prone plants including CA natives
Plant specimens that Bay Area fire fighters recommend avoiding include:
- Algerian Ivy | Hedera canariensis
- Bamboo | Bambusa
- Broom | Cytisus
- Cypress | Cupressus glabra + Cupressus sempervirens
- Leylandii Cypress | Cupressocyparis leylandii + Cupressus forbesii
- Douglas Fir | Pseudotsuga menziesii
- Eastern Red Cedar | Juniperus virginiana
- Eucalyptus | Eucalyptus camaldulensis
- Juniper | Juniperus virginiana
- Manzanita | Arctostaphylos hookeri
- Pampas Grass | Cortaderia selloana
- Pine | Pinus
- Rosemary | Rosmarinus officinalis
- Thuja | Arborvitae
- Toyon | Heteromeles arbutifolia
- Wattle | Acacia
Fire-resistant landscape checklist
Careful planning, proper site preparation and use of the right plants will yield a more defensible, fire-resistant landscape. To keep you on track as you address your landscape project, this checklist provides guidance on where you need to focus:
- Remove flammable plants
- Minimize use of coniferous shrubs + trees within 30′ of a structure
- Avoid junipers + conifers
- Create hard scape fuel breaks with paths, patios, driveways, rock walls, brick + cement partitions
- Install drip irrigation
- Use inorganic mulches including gravel, pebbles + rocks
- Integrate water features including swimming pools, spas, ponds + fountains to reduce fuel volume
- Prune trees and shrubs regularly
- Remove tree branches at least 10′ from structures, chimneys + power lines
Taking steps to minimize fire risk can increase safety and help lower stress levels for anyone living in or near at-risk wildfire areas.
If considering purchasing a home in or near a fire-danger area, we recommend you first consult with a residential insurance expert and mortgage expert.