Ask Flora – October 2021
Dear Flora, Is there any way that I can make my little homestead fire resistant?
You can’t ensure that your home will survive a wildfire, but you can take some actions to increase the chances. Using fire-resistant building materials (for example, roofing materials), reducing flammable materials (wood, mulch, leaves, dry grass) around the home and using fire-resistant plant material in the landscape are all good activities. Trim branches that overhand the house. Mow grass to 4 to 8 inches high.
Create fuel breaks with driveways, walkways/paths, patios, decks and gardens. Out to about 40 feet from your house, you can modify/reduce/clear potential fuels (materials or vegetation) to create a barrier, slow the spread of fire and allow room for firefighters to fight the fire safely. This is where you can have lawn, flower beds or stone patios; fire-resistant ornamental shrubs no taller than 18 inches and isolated (tree crowns should be at least 10 feet apart); and broadleaf (versus evergreen) trees with lower limbs pruned up to 10 feet. Broadleaf trees are preferred to pines and firs. Do not plant junipers.
The last zone is out 100 to 200 feet from your house. Studies have shown that homes ignite due to the condition of the home and everything around it, up to 200 feet from the foundation. This can be a wild forest area, but tree crowns should be at least 6 to 8 feet apart, lower limbs pruned to 6 to 10 feet high and no dead limbs on the ground. Isolated, dead trees for wildlife are allowed, but no groups of dead trees.
Dear Flora, I like to use wood chips for mulch. Is this a fire hazard?
Dear Blackie, Yes, it is hazardous. Depending on why you are mulching, there are several substitutes for wood chips, such as crushed stone, gravel, plastic or cardboard sheeting to reduce weeds or compost to reduce soil moisture loss.
Dear Flora, Is it ok to have shrubs and trees next to each other or will they possibly transfer fire to each other?
Dear Stormy, No it is not; these are called ladder fuels if they are close enough to allow a ground fire to climb up into treetops (a height of 6 feet).
Dear Flora, I heat with wood and have my woodpile next to the house. Do I have to move the woodpile away from the house?
Dear Autumn, A safer distance for your firewood pile is at least 10 feet from any structure.
Dear Flora, What are the best plants to use around my house to reduce fire hazards?
Dear Herb, Some characteristics of “firewise” plants include ones that contain more moisture even in summer, low levels of volatile oils and other readily flammable chemicals and grow small or produce little litter. Any tree can provide a large amount of fuel to a fire so carefully place and maintain them, with broadleaf trees preferred over those with needles. Make sure to choose well-suited plants for your area by consulting the USDA hardiness zone map. Always ensure that you do not use plants that are considered noxious weeds. Some examples are cottonwood, aspens, roses, ashes, lilacs, chokecherry, littleleaf sumac and red-osier dogwood.
Dear Flora, What plants are considered fire prone?
Dear Rosemary, Plants with needle-like or fine leaves, resinous/oily/waxy foliage and loose/papery bark are fire prone. Do not plant cedar. Most conifers and junipers are considered fire prone.
Dear Flora, Where can I get more information?
Dear Hunter, The publications and agencies mentioned below provide information on making your homestead fire resistant, including recommended plants. Remember that any plant or garden can become a fire hazard if it is not well maintained, including watering.
- University of Wyoming Extension Firewise Landscaping: www.uwyo.edu/barnbackyard/resources/wildlife
- Sublette County Unified Fire: 307-367-4550. www.sublettewyo.com/424/Fire-Wise
- USDA Forest Service: www.wildfirerisk.org/reduce-risk/home-ignition-zone/
- USDA NRCS Pinedale Field Office: www.firewisewyoming.com/
- Utah Firewise Plants: www.forestry.usu.edu/news/utah-forest-facts/firewise-plants-for-utah-landscapes
- National Fire Protection Association: www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Fire-causes-and-risks/Wildfire/Firewise-USA
- Sublette County Conservation District - Roosevelt Fire Resources: www.sublettecd.com/roosevelt-fire-2
Our local Sage & Snow Garden Club is a fun way to get gardening information, meet local gardeners and help make our community beautiful. We usually meet on the third Tuesday of the month, but in-person meetings are currently suspended. In the meantime, you can visit the website (and read previous Ask Flora articles), Facebook or Twitter pages. The 2021 schedule of events is posted in case you want to participate.