Fire Safety Friday: Wildfire Preparedness While Social Distancing

With nice weather in the forecast, I hope you all are planning on going outside and doing some work to improve your home’s wildfire resiliency.

Last week I wrote about what we can do to reduce the wildfire risk to our homes. Now let’s talk about what we can do within the first 5 feet (Immediate Zone) around our home to improve the chances of it surviving a wildfire event.

Home Ignition Zones

Defensible space is broken down into three different Home Ignition ZonesImmediate, Intermediate and Extended.

One thing we can do to improve our wildfire resiliency is to replace landscaping bark with a hardscaping material  such as rock, concrete, pavers, etc. which creates a no fuel zone. Bark is flammable, and during a wildfire event, windblown embers that land on the bark in the Immediate Zone could start a fire next to your home.

If you choose to have vegetation within this zone, having fire-resistant plants and adequately spacing them or planting them away from flammable structures decreases the risk of your home being damaged during a wildfire event.

Below, I have shared two resources on choosing fire-resistant vegetation that may be able to replace non-fire-resistant vegetation on your property, thus increasing your home’s overall wildfire resiliency.

Ladder fuels are plants, woody debris, or structures that could allow a fire to spread from the surface of the ground to the canopy of trees. They increase the chance of a home being damaged in the event of a wildfire. Ladder fuels pose a risk across all three zones, but are especially risky in the Immediate Zone because a fire that has ladder fuel to climb here greatly increases the risk that the home will be damaged due to ladder fuels generating heat close to the home.

Ladder Fuels - Creating an Effective Survivable Space...A Step-by-Step Guide

Reducing or eliminating ladder fuels increases the horizontal and/or vertical spacing between surface fuels and taller fuels like tree canopies. This is usually accomplished by pruning and/or removing vegetation.

Dense and Dead Vegetation

Dense and dead vegetation under trees create ladder fuels in the immediate zone. This is a high-risk activity and could increase the chances of a home being damaged in the event of a fire.

Increase spacing vertically by pruning tree branches up to a minimum of 6 feet, but not more than 10 feet, above surface fuels to remove ladder fuels. Don’t prune small trees more than one third of their total height.

Follow these steps to reduce ladder fuels:

  • If possible, choose to plant fire-resistant vegetation around your home and property.
  • Clean dead plant debris (fine fuels) from under other vegetation and around the base of your home.
  • Increase spacing of shrubs and flowers to ensure they are not touching.
  • Prune tree branches up to a minimum of 6 feet above surface fuels but not more than 10 feet to remove ladder fuels. Don’t prune small trees more than one third of their total height.

Doing these four steps could increase the wildfire resiliency of your home and property.

Stay tuned next week for recommendations on tree placement, tree spacing and what we can do to maintain a healthy and wildfire resilient Intermediate Zone.

If you are interested in more information or remote technical assistance, reach out to me at or give me a call at 425-773-5060.

Matt Axe, Program Coordinator, Wildfire and Forest Resiliency

Thanks to our partners Washington State Department of Natural ResourcesKing County Department of Natural Resources and ParksEastside Fire and RescueVashon Island Fire and Rescue and more.

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