Landscaping for wildfire prevention
Drought conditions in the Santa Barbara region make wildfire prevention a true concern for property owners, especially for communities at the base of the Santa Ynez Mountains that experience frequent sundowners—high temperature surges created by the release of superheated air. Here buildings and the landscape around them must be designed with regard for fire safety. Protecting one’s investment is a primary concern in how properties in these areas are developed.
Setting up “defensible space zones” around buildings and structures is critical in slowing the spread of wildfire and allowing access for firefighters to help defend the home. The Cal Fire website makes the following recommendations for two key zones as they relate to the building envelope:
- In the first thirty feet all dead landscape material including branches, leaves, grasses, and weeds should be removed. Trees in this zone should be no closer than ten feet from each other and dead branches within ten feet of the building should be removed. It is critical to evaluate the separation of landscaping and structures including decks, overhangs, and furnishings in this zone to slow the spread of fire.
- Extending to 100 feet from the building, shrubs and trees should be spaced to prevent a “ladder” effect that allows fire to climb from smaller shrubs up adjacent trees, thus intensifying its impact. Local authorities often establish the formulas for such vertical spacing and will gladly provide the information to homeowners.
Particular attention is paid to dead plant materials, which are like kindling in a wildfire situation. So too can shrubs and perennials be overly dry and conducive to the spread of fire in their “off seasons” or during hot summers. A Santa Barbara landscape contractor can evaluate the landscape and help determine which plants need to be removed or simply cut back until new growth can come in the following season. And, as the work can be laborious for the average homeowner, hire your contractor to make your home safer from wildfire with regular cleanups and inspection for adherence to the protection guidelines.
When the initial work is completed, a contractor or designer will also help select fire-resistant plants that not only give peace of mind to the homeowner, but provide beauty and interest in the garden. Avoid plants that dry easily or expel a lot of extra material such as spent seed heads, wispy grass blades, or sap, favoring instead plants that retain moisture even in times of drought and resist ignition. From succulents such as ice plant to hardwood trees like maple and poplar, a landscape designer fluent in Santa Barbara and fire resistant landscaping can help you select the right materials to protect and beautify your investment.