Take a look around your property. Can you withstand a fire? With a little effort you can build a defensible landscape.
You can take steps to minimize or greatly reduce the fuel and fire hazard around your home by making adjustments to your landscape with fire-resistant plants and techniques, such as proper plant placement, plant spacing, and ongoing plant maintenance and choice of mulch. These practices help decrease overall fuel volume, create a fuel barrier and slow the spread of a wildfire from reaching your home. Remember also that you may have fire-resistant plants and trees but having dead leaves and debris on the ground can still be fuel for a fire so regular clean up and leaf blowing are warranted.
Here are some links for ideas for these fire resistant plants! Click here, and here.
Here are just two examples of beautiful and effective fire resistant plants! Lambs Ear & Lavender!
The first zone should be 3-5 feet on all sides and should be completely free of any flammable plants, mulch and wood.
Firewood should not be stored close to your home. If you put plants in this zone they should be fire resistant and low to the ground. Prevent any plants from touching your home. Vines should never grow up the wall of your home.
The second zone is 30 feet from your home. Within this zone fire- resistant plants, trees and shrubs should dominate.
When thinking about creating your zones the first two zones should have plants and trees well-spaced. When planting, plant in small groups and not in a large mass. Keep this area clean with regular pruning and thinning as well as removal of dead vegetation and keep leaves blown away. See some examples of fire-resistant plants here...
The third zone is beyond 30 feet.
Trees should be properly spaced apart and shrubs should be low-growing in this zone. Use only non-flammable mulch such as pea gravel or other stone material such as rock, gravel or stepping stones. These materials help reduce the spread of fire as opposed to wood mulch or pine straw.
Most of us and our visitors are coming from living in environments less integrated with nature. The potential for wildfire is just not on the radar so education takes on a new urgency.
Take active steps minimize or reduce the fuel source and fire hazard risk around your property.
Don’t throw coals or ashes over deck railings…they still may be hot
Don’t burn in open fire pits when the fire sign says extreme
Don’t burn in open fire pits when the wind is high….one spark can travel up to a mile and set a fire
Post a reminder by the fire pit to douse and soak the coals, even the ones that appear to be out, with water for at least 15 minutes. Empty the soaked coals into a pit or hole that's free of leaves and other flammable materials.
Provide a metal ash pail to dump the coals into.
Mitigation. That's what it is all about.
Let’s explore some of the elements of ‘mitigation’ and disposal of the materials you’ve accumulated in your efforts to create a defensible space.
Mitigation in a general sense means to remove the fuels that feed a wildfire. These include:
Remove dead, standing and downed trees that are within the 60’ perimeter area of your home.
Remove leaves and pine needles; especially those piles the wind has blown under the decking, or that have accumulated in the roof gutters. Blow them at least 30’ from the perimeter of your home. This is an activity that needs to happen regularly, since the wind has a way of blowing them back. Here’s a link to that video demonstrating just how dangerous small piles of litter can be
Vertical spacing of plants is as important as horizontal. Limb up all healthy trees to a height of 10’ if possible to keep a ground fire from laddering up to the tree crowns. Cedars, Mountain Laurel, and Holly are plants with high flammability ratings so you’ll want to pay special attention to remediating them.
It’s been encouraging to see that several of you have been proactive thinning trees and working to create a defensible space around your cabins; more of us need to follow your examples.
Once you’ve blown the piles of litter and trimmed the trees what can you do with the residue?
Last year we started to clear our defensive space and generated the whole list of junk… logs, branches, and leaves. For the larger logs we cut them up and were fortunate that some neighbors were interested in accumulating firewood and had the capability to haul the wood away.
The smaller stuff posed the bigger challenge, especially since it is the most flammable. We borrowed a small wood chipper and shredded the branches and the leaves. This made a fine mulch for some of our plants. The area we worked so hard to clear is now on an easy maintenance of occasional leaf blowing.
If you’re not able to do your own mitigation, there are a few business in the area who are trained in mitigation.
In the future, as our community becomes more organized around Firewise we’ll be able to combine our efforts and resources so we can maintain the mitigation efforts. Some Firewise communities are able to rent a chipper and help each other shred branches and leaves. Other Firewise communities have been able to rent a Mechanical Fuel Treatment machine from the Georgia Forestry Commission. It looks like an oversize riding mower with an 88” wide deck. It can clear underbrush and trees up to 4” in diameter.
Doing double take? After all this stuff about protecting us from wildfire here I am talking about burning!! While not my first choice, it is an option. I have witnessed residents in our community burning brush piles. For maximum safety, a very important consideration is to make sure you have a Burn Permit.
These are issued by the Georgia Forestry Commission for the day you call in the permit request. Any fire must be extinguished by 2100 hours, or dark.
There are several considerations the GFC uses when issuing the permits. Wind, humidity, weather forecast, and smoke dispersion estimates are among some 20 different climate factors that enter into a decision on whether or not it’s safe to allow open burning.
Reasons to register with GFC:
Should someone see the smoke generated from your fire and call 911, the GFC will know it is a permitted burn rather than a wildfire.
Sometimes a fire can get out of control and will need to be suppressed by a fire department. If you don’t have a permit, you have to pay for the vehicles and man-hours involved for that suppression. Could cost several thousand dollars.
The permit is free and easy to obtain. You can call 1-877-OK2-BURN 7 days a week including holidays or apply online - get there here!