As smoke from the Sherpa fire stings my eyes and planes loaded with fire-retardant fly overhead, an ah-ha moment struck. Firewise landscaping is lean, clean, and green. Hmm…that’s waterwise too.

Five years of drought, 58 million dead and dying trees just in California, and hot and windy weather make a tinderbox. The more flammable the material, the faster it burns; the closer the plants, the more flames spread from plant to plant to homes. Actions you can take to help your property resist wildfire are:

#1. Decrease the volume of fuel.

Clean out dead brush and downed trees. Dispose of any litter. Purge low-priority plantings.

#2. Separate fuel sources to impede transference.

Leave horizontal and vertical gaps between plants and between plants and structures, especially shrubs that can act as fuel ladders from the ground to tree canopies and homes. Insert firebreaks with paths and compact plants that isolate vegetative masses and with inorganic mulch like gravel instead of bark next to buildings.

#3. Create defensible zones around the home.

Use nonflammable materials within 5′ of a home and small plants out to 30′ (zone 1), fire-retardant plants like succulents or groundcover out to 100′ (zone 2), and fire-resistant ones like natives with thinned foliage beyond 100′ (zone 3). Irrigate enough to prevent plantings from dying out.

#4. Choose firewise plants.

Select species with high moisture content, small leaves, or low growth – these drought-tolerant traits will hamper flames and restrict fuel. Avoid plants with combustible high oil content, preponderance of dead branches or needles, or invasive contiguous growth.

#5. Get expert advice.

Ask local firemen to inspect for risk. Ours asked a neighboring municipality to remove giant palms’ torch-like dead fronds and brought a sign to signal our pool as a water source. Check out guidance of forest services in Colorado or Texas, universities in Utah or Colorado, and non-profits like National Fire Protection Association, eXtension, or Native Plant Societies.

We transformed our landscaping the past 2 1/2 years to slash consumption with a less-is-more strategy, drought-tolerant plants widely spaced, hardscaping, dead plant removal, and other measures chronicled in this blog. It’s comforting these waterwise steps are firewise too.

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