Hundreds of homes across Colorado were lost last year to wildfires.
The continued drought and dry conditions have both homeowners and fire fighters anxious about what could be ahead for 2013. As we learned last year in the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, even suburban neighborhoods are not immune.
As winter turns into an early spring, plan ahead for the steps you can take to protect your home if you live in or near a potentially threatened area. And if you're a city dweller, consider which steps could be useful for your home, as living in a city is no guarantee that houses won't catch fire from outdoor hazards or accidents.
Maintain defensible space
Research has shown that 80 percent of home losses from wildfires are from embers, often launched 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 mile ahead of a fire and sometimes as much as 1 mile away. Maintaining your property to have less flammable material that can be ignited by embers, especially the space within 15 feet of the home, becomes critical.
Here are the basic steps to take to keep fires from igniting on your property and also to provide space where firefighters can work safely to defend your home in a wildfire:
• Remove flammable plants and shrubs from the site. This includes all dead trees and shrubs. Also, remove "ladder fuels," which are shrubs and small trees that grow under larger trees, to prevent fires from climbing.
• Reduce flammable debris such as dead branches in trees and debris on the ground such as leaves and pine needles that easily ignite. Remember to clean gutters regularly to keep them free of the same debris. Keep grasses and weeds mowed to a height of 6 inches within 30 feet of structures.
• Replace flammable plants and mulch with less flammable ones. For example, replace a stand of low-moisture shrubs with a bed of perennials. Also, remove bark mulch and use gravel instead.
Use firewise plants that retain more moisture and are not so quick to ignite. Here are some plant tips:
• Low-growing groundcovers such as Corsican violet and yellow-leaved thyme provide color without height.
• Low-growing sedum varieties need little maintenance or pruning.
• Perennials and herbaceous plants are firewise. Among CSU's recommendations are basket-of-gold, blanket flower, hardy geranium, lavender, blue mist penstemon and culinary sage.
• Firewise shrubs include Oregon grape holly, little-leaf mountain mahogany, true mountain mahogany and golden currant.
• For large trees and shrubs, avoid trees that have flammable resins and select ones that hold moisture. For example, green ash, crabapple, common lilac or chokecherry.
• Work with a local landscape professional who understands firewise landscaping principles and who can select the proper plant materials for your plant hardiness zone.
Becky Garber is member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, of which Neils Lunceford, a landscaping company, is a member. You may contact them at 970-468-0340.