Firewise landscaping and what you can do NOW!

The Beaver Creek Fire in the Wood River Valley.  Photo by Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman.

The Beaver Creek Fire in the Wood River Valley.
Photo by Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman.

A recent fire on Hill Road brought danger darn near to the doorstep. For folks in fire prone areas throughout the Intermountain West, and anywhere else, here is a checklist of things you can do to make defensible space around your home. Thirty minutes of clean up now can make all the difference when lightning or human caused fires are racing toward your home. This list is from my Rocky Mountain Gardeners Handbook and was created in conjunction with the BLM and Firewise garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden/with their staff.

Wildfires are a part of life in the neighborhood and throughout our region. You can greatly reduce the risk of wildfire burning your home by practicing “firewise landscaping.” This is the practice of creating a “defensible” space” around your home and across your property, as much as 60 to 100 feet from the house. The Bureau of Land Management and municipal fire agencies have developed some guidelines and safety tips for homeowners. Remember this: LEAN, GREEN and CLEAN. Lean plantings (no high resin conifers), green (keep it green around your house w/green lawn, and clean (clean up shrubs/trees and overhanging branches/duff, and dead stuff).

Homeowners “Wildfire Hazard Reduction Certificate” – Boise Fire Department would like to offer homeowners a “Wildfire Hazard Reduction Certificate” upon completion of several items the homeowner can do to make homes safer from wildfire. Click here to open Criteria Check List and Check List. After completing the criteria check list, please notify Captain Jerry McAdams at 570-6576 or Captain McAdams will visit your home to assess your hazard reduction efforts. If you are successful in meeting the criteria, a certificate will be issued.

Create Zones of Defense

Zone 1, from the house outward, 30 or more feet: use fire resistant plants only (list follows). These are primarily low-growing, fire resistant plants, particularly ground covers and vines. Keep plants and the area near the house well maintained, removing “duff” or dead plant material. Keep grasses mowed and well irrigated. Gravel mulch is recommended and has several benefits: it will reduce water loss, keep plant roots cool, and discourage weed growth. Break up the plantings near the house with stone patios and walkways – this minimizes the ability of fire to run along continuous fuel sources. Be certain to clean out gutters and rake up leaves.

Zone 2, 30-60 feet from the house or farther: reduce plant density. Use only low-growing and fire resistant plants and shrubs. Keep tall grasses and shrubs well groomed and space them. It is recommended they be planted two times their height apart. For instance, a shrub that will reach 10 feet of height at maturity should be spaced 20 feet from its neighboring shrub.

Zone 3, 60-100 feet from the house: thin and prune existing plants. Prune tree limbs 6-10 feet up the trunk of the tree and minimize overlapping branches between trees and shrubs.

Fire Resistant Plants

All plants are flammable, but some plants are more fire resistant than others. They have high moisture content, are low growing, with high salt or soap content and are non-resinous. They will generally have large leaves and green stems, too.

In the list below, the plant groups are from the top to bottom, the most flammable to more fire resistant. Note that conifers and grasses are at the TOP of the list.
Conifers (least fire resistant)
Deciduous trees
Succulents (most fire resistant)

Note: fire resistant vines and groundcovers are generally inexpensive and relatively easy to maintain. Vines can be trained on metal fences to create a “green fence” which may stop or at least slow down a wildfire.

Fire resistant ground covers

Ajuga Ajuga reptans
Basket of Gold Aurinia saxatalis
Bearberry or Kinnikinnick Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Caucasica sage Artemisia caucasica
Creeping phlox Phlox subulata
Creeping thyme Thymus praecox
Giant flowered soapwort Saponaria x lempergii
Green mat penstemon Penstemon davidsonii
Ground cover rose Rosa hybrid
Hardy iceplant Delosperma spp.
Hardy plumbago Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
Hens and chicks Escheveria spp.
Hummelo lamb’s ear Stachys monieri ‘Hummelo’
Japanese pachysandra Pachysandra terminalis
Lamb’s ear Stachys byzantina
Lily of the valley Convallaria majalis
Mat penstemon Penstemon caespitosus
Mother of thyme Thymus serphyllum
Poppy mallow Callirhoe involucrata
Pussytoes Antennaria spp.
Rock soapwort Saponaria ocymoides
Rockcress Arabis spp.
Silver-edged horehound Marrublum rotundifolium
Snow in summer Cerastium tormentosum
Turkish speedwell Veronica liwanensis