Feature

Be Fire Wise: Preparing Your Home for Wildfire Season

Robert Hudson Westover
U.S. Forest Service
May 10th, 2016 at 4:00PM

A photo of A Fire Wise protected home with landscaping designed to minimize fuel
A Fire Wise protected home with landscaping designed to minimize fuel that would feed a fire to the doorstep.

Very often, the difference between saving your home in a wild fire and losing it to the flames is pretty much determined by what you do to prepare your property. The U.S. Forest Service calls it being Fire Wise.

I’ve had personal experience in the importance of clearing a wide perimeter around your property to deny fuel—dried wood, grass and trees—to a fire. Back about ten years ago my grandparents’ ranch house near the Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County was spared because of a 150-foot clear space between the flames and the house. And this wasn’t the first time that had happened.

Indeed, it’s not a feat of magic or even, in the vast majority of cases, a stroke of luck when your home is saved because you have been Fire Wise. Still, most of us think nothing can be done to protect a home from the onslaught of a raging wildland fire. Don’t be fooled, here’s how you can be Fire Wise.

Fire Wise landscaped properties have one thing in common: a defensible space stretching at least 100 feet from a structure and in some cases a couple of hundred feet. Fire Wise yards will have grass, rock or evergreen ground cover surrounding them (or sometimes just soil). This empty space creates an area of land where the heated intensity of a wildland fire cannot reach—it literally has nothing that burns easily. So, amazingly, sometimes the difference between having a home burned to the foundation or coming back to your house, opening the door and smelling only smoke from a raging fire that had just burned through the neighborhood can depend upon something as simple as your choice of landscaping.

An illustrated photo of Be Fire Wise graphic
Be Fire Wise graphic.

The evidence is clear: a Fire Wise protected home will help you and your community resist the destructive force of a wildfire. But everyone in your community needs to participate, especially if your properties closely border each other.

Thanks to climate change, fire season is starting earlier, so now is a good time to take steps to reduce wildland fire risks to your property. Fire season is also lasting longer, so it’s never too late to prepare. Even though the Forest Service and federal and state fire managers and crews continue to work closely with states and communities to protect residents, property and natural resources, homeowners still need to do their part.

Being Fire Wise will not only protect you and your family, but also the firefighters who put their lives at risk to fight wildfires. Fire is everyone’s fight.