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Protect Your Home from Wildfires with Defensible Space

Every year, with the onset of summer, wildfires become a major issue here in Colorado and this year has seen the most destructive wildfire in Colorado's history in the Black Forest fire. Many Coloradans live in what is called wildland-urban interface (or WUI) which is an area where structures and other developments meet and mix with wildland areas and vegetative fuels. In areas like these, fire mitigation becomes extremely important, and is required by many counties and cities. The best defense against wildfires for all Colorado homeowners is a well-planned and well-maintained defensible space around the home.

 

What is defensible space?

Defensible space is an area surrounding a home in which vegetation and other fuels have been managed or removed to reduce the threat of a wildfire on the house and provides firefighters with adequate space to fight a wildfire.

Every homeowner is responsible for creating and maintaining defensible space around their home, but oftentimes it can require cooperation between neighbors (since you can only cut and clear vegetation on your own property). A successful defensible space on your property could potentially save a neighbors home (and vice versa), and when defensible spaces are linked together it can help protect the community as a whole. 

How do I create a defensible space?

Creating a defensible space does not mean that your property has to be bare. There are three zones involved in the implementation of any defensible space, and the attention required differs for each.

Zone 1

Zone 1 extends out 15–30 feet from the edge of your home at minimum. Nothing should be planted within the first 5 feet to prevent flames from coming in direct contact with the house itself. If any other vegetation is present in Zone 1, it should be low-growing and fire-resistant. Trees should be avoided in this zone but if any trees are kept, consider them part of the structure itself and extend the defensible out from them accordingly.

  • Vegetation should be well-maintained to avoid overgrowth, and regular pruning to remove any dead/unhealthy material is essential. 
  • Keep wild grasses mowed to a height of 6 inches or less, and keep them well irrigated.
  • Regularly remove pine needles and other fuels from areas directly surrounding the structure, and be aware of buildup elsewhere in Zone 1.
  • Clear pine needles and other debris and fuels from roofs, gutters and decks at least twice a year.

Zone 2

Zone 2 extends from 30–100 feet away from the edge of your home. The purpose of Zone 2 is to diminish the intensity of a wildfire as it approaches your home by reducing the occurrences of continuous fuel.

  • Remove diseased, dead, or dying vegetation.
  • Remove trees and large shrubs so that there is at least 10 feet between the crowns of trees (measured from the outermost branch).
  • Clear shrubs and small trees (commonly referred to as ladder fuels) from below large trees, and prune tree branches to a height of 10 feet above ground. These steps can help prevent flames jumping from the ground into the trees.
  • Groups of two or three trees can be acceptable if they are given extra space around them (at least 30 feet between the crowns of groups)
  • Stacked firewood and propane tanks should be kept at least 30 feet from structures.

Zone 3

Zone 3 does not have a specified width and is just a further transition from Zone 2 into the forest. A healthy forest will be better protected from wildfire, and you can work with the Colorado State Forest Service to better understand what steps could help. 

Preparing and protecting your property from wildfires is essential if you live within the WUI, and can benefit not only you, but your community as a whole. Creating and maintaining an effective defensible space is not a one time task, but a continual commitment. It can be a lot of work at times, but with every task you complete you are making your home and your property that much safer, and inconvenience of 'chores' is nothing compared to the devastation of losing a home.

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