Wildfire Mitigation Examples

January 10, 2023

Explore wildfire mitigation examples and detailed considerations to protect your home curated by the experts at the Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA).

Helicopter flies over a forest that is being overtaken by smoke. Fire is visible in the crowns of some trees.
Simple, preemptive actions to reduce the risk of wildfire can help to keep your home and community safe.

When considering how best to protect homes and neighborhoods from wildfire damage, the first step should always be early wildfire mitigation. Before there is even a threat of fire, homeowners can protect their houses by evaluating the area around the home and how it can be managed to stop or slow fires. Areas where homes are built close to wildland zones are particularly at risk. This ‘wildland-urban interface’ represents a key space where communities are working together to practice wildfire mitigation.

The California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection divides the defensible area around a home into three sections that start at the house with Zone 0, move out to 30 feet from the house with Zone 1, and finally extend to 100 feet from the house with Zone 2.1 The National Fire Protection Association defines this entire area as the home ignition zone.2 WFCA addresses these zones more in-depth in our Home Ignition Zone Explained article. You can protect your home from the spread of wildfire by taking mitigation steps in each of these three zones.

Zone 0 Considerations

The first area to defend is the house itself and within 0-5 feet of the structure.

  • Use non-flammable, hard-surface ground materials such as rock, gravel, or sand. Remove vegetation around the perimeter of your home in this zone.3
  • Clear out plants, firewood, propane, paint cans, or anything stored against the house or under the porch. Any flammable debris, including scrap lumber and firewood, should be stored at least 30 feet away from all structures.
  • Do not park vehicles within this zone.4
  • Clear pine needles and other debris from roofs and gutters, as embers can land and ignite these areas.5
  • Ensure embers cannot make it into your home through vents and chimneys by installing metal mesh. Vent openings should be covered with 1/16- or 1/8-inch metal mesh and chimneys should be covered with mesh no smaller than 3/8 inch and no larger than 1/2 inch. There are also ember- and flame-resistant vents, called WUI vents, that you can install.6
  • Explore some of the other ways you can ‘harden’ your home against wildfires.

Zone 1 Considerations

The second area of the home defense against wildfire is between 5-30 feet from the house. This is a zone where you can build out your home’s defensible space with landscaping and prevent fire from spreading from your yard to your house.

  • Keep lawns and grasses grass cut to 6 inches or less.7
  • Create breaks in vegetation with patios, flowerbeds, driveways, and walkways.
  • Identify an outdoor water source. Own a hose that can reach any part of your property.8
  • Cut back overgrown areas, especially beneath trees.
  • Remove ladder fuels, which are low tree branches or taller shrubs or climbing plants that can carry fire from the ground and up into trees.9
  • Consider planting high-moisture plants that grow close to the ground and have a low sap or resin content. If possible, ensure there are no coniferous trees in this zone.10
  • Prune trees so branches are 6-10 feet from the ground.
  • Any tree canopies should end 10 feet from the house itself, and trees should have more space between them the closer they are to the house.11 

Zone 2 Considerations

The third zone extends up to 100 feet away from your house. This is the area where you can interrupt fires, reduce the size of flames, and keep fire lower to the ground with landscape planning.12

  • Clear debris from the ground and reduce dead plants, trees, and leaves.
  • Keep the area between large, mature coniferous trees clear of smaller trees. Leave at least 12 feet of space between tree canopies when the trees are 30-60 feet from the house and at least 6 feet of space between tree canopies when trees are 60-100 feet from the house.13
  • If there are any outbuildings in this area, keep them clear of plants and vegetation.

Wildfire Mitigation Examples

Community awareness and engagement are essential to help mitigate wildfire risk. While property line boundaries between neighbors are clearly defined, wildfire does not recognize any boundaries. Neighborhoods often have overlapping defensible space, and communities can share resources for hardening homes and landscaping yards to protect houses from wildfire while maintaining an aesthetic that the homeowners appreciate. Read on to see some examples of how communities throughout the US have banded together over the years and decades to reduce their wildfire risk.  

A desert landscape with the glow of wildfire and clouds of smoke in the sky,  a cluster of smaller lights showing a nearby town.
Working together with your community is the most effective way to ensure that wildfire risks are kept to a minimum where you live.

Homeowner Firewise® Defensible Space Success in California

The state of California has a fire plan that begins before fires even start. As fire risks are identified, specialists note where to install fire breaks, harden and build out defensible space around homes, manage forests and wildlands, and promote fire-safe landscaping. The goal is to reduce the cost and danger of firefighting, reduce property loss, and ensure the health of California ecosystems.

In 1998, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection saw that Willow Springs in Tuolumne County, CA, was at high risk for wildfire. Homeowners in the area were encouraged to create a Firewise® defensible space by clearing flammable vegetation from their properties.14 When the Caylor Fire began on July 14, 1999, and started to spread toward the Willow Springs subdivision, the homeowners’ hard work paid off; the fire did not burn into their neighborhood. Firefighters could focus on the fire in the wildland, secure in the knowledge that residents had taken wildfire mitigation steps to protect their homes.

Community Mitigation Efforts and Compromises in Colorado

Bill Trimarco is the Program Manager for Wildfire Adapted Partnership (formerly FireWise of Southwest Colorado) in Archuleta County, CO. He experienced the value of community engagement and word of mouth when offering free wildfire risk assessment and professional mitigation work to Aspen Springs, CO residents on an eight-year project that was completed in 2021.

The Aspen Springs area was at high-risk for wildfires. Most residents lived off the power grid on an acre of their own land. The area had narrow dirt roads and crowded vegetation, with no municipal water or sewer systems and spotty electricity. In working with residents to reduce wildfire risk on their properties, Trimarco found compromises to satisfy property owners while still protecting their homes. While removing firewood and leaf litter from the area around the home is an essential, non-negotiable wildfire mitigation step, Trimarco says, “A ‘pet tree’ that someone’s grandmother planted too close to the house 40 years ago does not necessarily have to be cut down if some other adjustments can be made.”15

Trimarco’s organization performed mitigation work on 43 properties and 107 acres in the Aspen Springs subdivision over three years. Residents told each other about the fire mitigation opportunity, encouraged neighbors to apply, and volunteered their time to rake pine needles and move flammable materials out of Zone 0 and Zone 1. They continue to speak about how happy they are with the changes, even years after mitigation efforts were completed on their properties. According to historic fire regimes, Aspen Springs is over 140 years overdue for a wildfire. Trimarco is hopeful that the mitigation efforts residents have made will make a difference when a fire affects the area.

Pre-Fire Community Mitigation Efforts in California

The small coastal California community of Montecito began wildfire mitigation activities in 1994 and saw their hard work pay off two decades later. The community raised awareness among Montecito residents about the ways to mitigate wildfire risk around their homes, including clearing and thinning vegetation and creating shaded fuel breaks on their property.16 The Montecito Fire Protection District (MFPD) conducted public outreach and offered free resources, such as risk assessment and a neighborhood wood chipping program to make it easier for residents to remove flammable material from their properties.

Over a span of 23 years, the MFPD learned about resident needs, language barriers, and financial barriers to making wildfire mitigation changes to homes. Specialists helped find grant money or other inexpensive solutions so that residents could afford to build out their properties’ defensible zones. The community also created a protection plan and evacuation plan that all residents understood.

When the Thomas Fire swept through the area in December 2017, it burned more than 1,000 structures before it was contained in January 2018. In the month-long blaze, the community of Montecito only lost seven buildings. This was a very small amount of property damage, considering how the Thomas Fire affected the area and the severity of the wildfire. The mitigation efforts that Montecito residents took in the decades prior helped to protect the community from these devastating flames.

There are more wildfire mitigation success stories discussed on the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network. Read more here.

Sources

  1. California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, “Zone 0.” Accessed December 27, 2022.
  2. National Fire Protection Agency, “Preparing homes for wildfire.” Accessed December 6, 2022.
  3. The Cincinnati Insurance Companies, “Wildfire Mitigation Checklist.” Accessed December 27, 2022.
  4. Climate Check, “Wildfire Mitigation and Adaptation Guide for Homeowners.” Accessed December 27, 2022.
  5. Oregon State University, “The Home Ignition Zone: Protecting Your Property from Wildfire.” Accessed December 6, 2022.
  6. Climate Check, “Wildfire Mitigation and Adaptation Guide for Homeowners.” Accessed December 27, 2022.
  7. Boulder County Land Use, “Boulder County Wildfire Mitigation Quick Checklist.” Accessed December 27, 2022.
  8. Climate Check, “Wildfire Mitigation and Adaptation Guide for Homeowners.” Accessed December 27, 2022.
  9. Surviving Wildfire, “Ladder Fuels.” Accessed December 7, 2022.
  10. Boulder County Land Use, “Boulder County Wildfire Mitigation Quick Checklist.” Accessed December 27, 2022.
  11. Texas A&M Forest Service, “Home Ignition Zones and Defensible Space.” Accessed December 6, 2022.
  12. Wildfire Risk to Communities, “Home Ignition Zone.” Accessed December 7, 2022.
  13. National Fire Protection Agency. “Preparing homes for wildfire.” Accessed December 6, 2022.
  14. California Office of the State Fire Marshal, “Success Stories.” Accessed December 28, 2022.
  15. Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, “Fantastic Failure: When is a Good Idea Not a Good Idea? Lessons Learned from a Mitigation Project in Colorado.” Accessed December 28, 2022.
  16. U.S. Fire Administration, “Mitigating wildfire vulnerability: one community’s success story.” Accessed December 29, 2022.

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