Protect homes from wildfire with defensible space

You can protect your home from wildfires and still have an ascetically pleasing landscape design.

While spring cleaning this April, do not forget about your home’s landscape. Fire professionals recommend clearing vegetation 30 to 50 feet around any structure that may catch fire and carry it to the structure – a term fire experts refer to as “defensible space”. Simple changes and maintenance made today can prevent wildfire damage to your home.

Spring time is Michigan’s dominant wildfire season because of the many dead or dry fuels that did not decompose over the winter. Dry leaves, grasses, landscape plants and trees all can become potential fuels for wildfire if the conditions are right. Each spring, Michigan will experience an increase in sunlight exposure and winds further drying out vegetation before plants often have a chance to become green, moisture rich flora like we often see in the summer months. Landscape plants are no exception, plants and vegetative debris close to a housing structure can create ideal fuels for fire when an ignition source is present.

To lower the potential risk of wildfire damage to your home, the Michigan Firewise Communities Program recommends clearing dead leaves and other combustible material from under decks, eave troughs and around the perimeter of the house. By taking action this spring, homeowners can reduce the ability of small pieces of burning vegetation and debris that float into the air, called “firebrands”, to act as an ignition sources.

Additional things homeowners can do to protect their home from wildfire are to create a defensible space around the house that does not contain combustible plants. U.S. Forest Service research in western states has shown that 85 to 95 percent of homes that survived two major wildfires had 30 to 50 feet of defensible space, and fire-resistant roofing material like metal, terracotta tile, or even asphalt based materials. A list of recommended fire-resistant landscape plants is available at any county MSU Extension office.

MSU Extension also has created Firewise gardens to physically display ascetically pleasing landscape designs that embrace wildfire resistant plants and arrangements. Michigan’s Kettunen Center, Grand Haven’s airport, and Cadillac’s US-131 Northbound rest-stop all are great opportunities to see what fire-resistant designs can look like for one’s own home.

The Kettunen Center Firewise Garden near Tustin, Mich., shows how homeowners can have a beautiful landscape while still providing defensible space around their home.
Photo 1. The Kettunen Center Firewise Garden near Tustin, Mich., shows howhomeowners can have a beautiful landscape while still providing defensible space around their home.

This April 17 through April 23 is Michigan’s Wildfire Prevention Week. For more information on how you can protect you home, go to the MSU Extension Emergency Management Wildfire website. Be Safe. Be Firewise.

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