Wildfires are often thought of as catastrophic events that only occur out West. Unfortunately, wildfires are a serious threat for us too. Just drive around the Piedmont and notice the many homes, subdivisions, and communities nestled in mature forest stands. These properties are at risk of damage in the event of a wildfire.
While it’s inconceivable to fireproof the forest, residents can safeguard their homes from wildfires by creating a “defensible space” around their homes. A defensible space serves as the front line of defense from a wildfire. It’s designed and managed to suppress wildfires, while giving firefighters adequate working room to defend the home.
A defensible space does not have to be devoid of vegetation. Besides looking stark and unattractive, a barren landscape falls prey to soil erosion. Nor should you pave every square foot of space between your home and the woods with blacktop or concrete. It’s not only ridiculous, but impractical.
However, the defensible space should not be a tinderbox of dead limbs and other highly flammable vegetation located within 30 feet of your home.
To create an attractive, vegetated defensible space, by follow the SC Forestry Commission’s “Three R’s of Defensible Space”.
Remove plants from the site that pose a threat to your home, particularly shrubs and trees within 100 feet of your home. Thin out the stand to create wide spaces between the trees. You will decrease the amount of flammable vegetation and create spaces for firebreaks. Excellent firebreaks include open lawns, patios, driveways, walkways, and parking areas. Attractive landscape features, such as water gardens, pools, and dry stream beds also double as barriers to stop or check fires.
Reduce the amount of vegetation on the site, such as pruning out dead wood, removing low tree branches within 15 to 20 feet of the ground, and mowing grass—especially if it’s dry. Keep tree limbs at least 15 feet away from chimneys, power lines, and buildings.
Replace more highly flammable vegetation with less hazardous plant material. For example, hardwood trees tend to be less flammable than conifers. Consider thinning out a dense stand of shrubs or removing it completely and replacing it with an attractive, irrigated flower border.
The area of defensible space will vary depending on the kind of wild vegetation growing near the house and the steepness of the property. However, at least 30 feet from the house keep the area clean of dead vegetation or other debris which can catch fire. This “lean, clean, and green” cushion should contain plants that remain green and healthy during the threat of fire season.
Creating and maintaining a defensible space will improve your chances of having your home survive a wildfire. Although you may think: “It won’t happen to me,” let’s hope you’re right. As my mother told me years ago, “its always better to be safe than sorry.” Finally, I understand what she meant.
(c) Bob Polomski, 2014.