Defensible Space Resources for Landowners

December 2, 2021

Posted in: People & Places

For information regarding defensible space, how to harden your home to wildfires, and what plants and materials to use for fire-resistant landscape, please explore the resources below. 

Climate change and Sonoma County’s fire threat for 2021

On July 15, 2021, Fire Chief Marshall Turbeville from the Northern Sonoma County Fire District presented about the state of the county’s forests and fire threat to the Sonoma County Forest Conservation Working Group. He provided a summary of the fires we experienced in 2020 and a description of the current conditions for 2021. Watch the recording here >> 

What is defensible space?

Defensible space is the buffer you create between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surround it. This space is needed to slow or stop the spread of wildfire and it helps protect your home from catching fire—either from embers, direct flame contact or radiant heat. Proper defensible space also provides firefighters a safe area to work in, to defend your home. The intensity of wildfire fuel management varies within the 100-foot perimeter of the home, with more intense fuels reduction occurring closer to your home. Learn more about what you need to do here >>

Why home hardening is important

There are three ways your home can be exposed to wildfire: direct flames from a wildfire or burning neighboring home, radiant heat from nearby burning plants or structures, and flying embers. Flying embers from a wildfire can destroy homes up to a mile away and are responsible for the destruction of most homes during a wildfire. More about home hardening here >>

5 no-cost ways to create defensible space and harden your home

  • Regularly clean your roof, gutters, decks, and the base of walls to avoid the accumulation of fallen leaves, needles, and other flammable materials.
  • Ensure that all combustible materials are removed from underneath, on top of, or within five feet of a deck.
  • Remove vegetation or other combustible materials that are within five feet of windows and glass doors.
  • Replace wood mulch products within five feet of all structures with noncombustible products such as dirt, stone, or gravel.
  • Remove all dead or dying grass, plants, shrubs, trees, branches, leaves, weeds, and pine needles within 30 feet of all structures or to the property line.

Find more helpful tips from the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety here >>

Building a fire-resistant landscape

A fire-resistant landscape uses fire-resistant plants that are strategically planted to resist the spread of fire to your home. Fire-resistant plants are great in California because they are often drought tolerant, too.

The good news is, you don’t need a lot of money to make your landscape fire resistant. And you will find that a fire-resistant landscape can increase your property value and conserve water while beautifying your home.

Choose Fire-Resistant Plants and Materials

  • Create fire-resistant zones with stone walls, patios, decks, and roadways.
  • Use rock, mulch, flower beds, and gardens as ground cover for bare spaces and as effective firebreaks.
  • There are no “fire-proof” plants. Select high-moisture plants that grow close to the ground and have a low sap or resin content.
  • Choose fire-retardant plant species that resist ignition such as rockrose, ice plant, and aloe.
  • Select fire-resistant shrubs such as hedging roses, bush honeysuckles, currant, cotoneaster, sumac, and shrub apples.
  • Plant hardwood, maple, poplar, and cherry trees that are less flammable than pine, fir, and other conifers. 

 Check your local nursery, landscape contractor, or county’s UC Cooperative Extension service for advice on fire-resistant plants that are suited for your area.

Learn more about fire-resistant landscaping:   

Lessons learned from the Glass Fire

Jim and Betty Doerksen own a 120-acre forested property off of Saint Helena Road northeast of Santa Rosa that is protected by an Ag + Open Space conservation easement. Sadly, the Glass Fire heavily impacted their property, and many others throughout the Mark West Creek watershed. Read about the lessons the Doerkson’s learned during the Glass Fire here >>