What is Firescaping?
Updated: Jan 16
Although it is impossible to eliminate the risk of fire in your landscape, there are things you can do to lessen the danger.
What is Firescaping:
Firescaping is a landscaping technique that involves creating non-burn zones around your home by picking fire-resistant plants, cleaning up debris and reducing density so that you can prevent the spread of fire from the surrounding landscape to your home. This is critical especially for homes closer to woodland, forest or grasslands where wildfires are common.
The idea is to reduce fuel for the fire, that is, to create fuel breaks. Closest to your home (within 5 feet), it is best to reduce most vegetation or use the lusher plants (possibly using rain water or graywater to keep them irrigated more often). Then create as much of a defensible zone as you can to make it easy for fire crews to reach your home. The common saying is to keep it "Lean, Clean and Green" within 30 feet of your home by reducing tree density, creating some hardscape to slow the fire, removing dead vegetation and keeping the garden irrigated. Beyond the 30' zone, there is a secondary zone up to 100' or property boundary, where you extend the cleaning effort to keeping grasses down to 4" height, creating some horizontal and vertical spacing between shrubs and trees, as shown in the above diagram.
There are no fire-proof plants, but some plants are slower to ignite or generate shorter flames or burn less hot. There are some examples in the upcoming sections of such plants. This plant selection might be most important when creating a hedge (such for screening) so that the wind-blown embers might be caught before hitting your home.
If you are in a wildfire border where urban areas and wild land meet, please look at the resources section to be prepared when a fire occurs, such as being prepared to evacuate!
First Steps You Can Take:
Trim overgrown or dead or invasive plants
Remove branches of evergreen trees (especially conifers) overhanging your roof
Replace highly flammable plants like eucalyptus
Keep your plants watered. According to this study, lightly watered CA native plants perform really well in terms of moisture content when only lightly irrigated. Moisture content and irrigation seem to be the most important factor in preventing burns: https://bioone.org/journals/bulletin-southern-california-academy-of-sciences/volume-119/issue-1/0038-3872-119.1.35/Protecting-the-Wildland-Urban-Interface-in-California--Greenbelts-vs/10.3160/0038-3872-119.1.35.short
According to the same study above, using natives worked best because native plants required much less water to be hydrated.
Move flammable furniture (umbrellas, cushions) inside if there is danger of embers
Make it easy for firefighters to get to your residence by keeping a clear path/driveway
Keep firewood or bbq/fire pit propane tanks away from your home
Use inorganic mulch (such as river rocks) next to foundation of the house. Keep plant heights low (to keep flame height low). Do not plant tall plants under eaves that would carry the flames into eaves.
More Advanced Options:
Add a water feature
Consider switching to plants that store water such as succulents, groundcovers near your home
If you have a pool, consider installing a pump feature you can use to hose down your house
Consider inorganic mulches and more non-flammable hardscape in zone 1, such as rock gardens
Install a secondary exit from your lot such as a second fence gate on a corner lot
Do not use wood or cedar shingles near or on your home as they are highly flammable when embers land. Metal roofs are ideal. Use masonry and metal parts for pergolas instead of wood.
Do not use wood fences around propane tanks to hide them
In addition to Eucalyptus, avoid Acacia, Pines, Spruce, Junipers and Firs next to your home.
Plants with high water content or lower growth
** Most important thing when it comes to plants in a fire-prone zone is to KEEP THEM WATERED. There are plants that are listed as more fire-resistant, but these lists and research are from controlled experiments and are rather dated. Therefore, avoid the highly combustible options in the tree list above and keep the rest irrigated as first defense.
University of California Natural Resources
Hardening Your Home Against Wildfire from FireSafeSanMateo