The High Country Xeriscape Council of Arizona is a non-profit 501 C-3 corporation dedicated to educating our communities about water-wise gardening. For additional information write:
4397 E AZ Highway 260
Payson, AZ 85541
When temperatures reach upwards of 2,000°, as they did at the climax of the Oakland/ Berkeley Hills fire (Tunnel fire) of 1991, everything burns and there's nothing you can do to stop the oncoming conflagration. But if you take steps to make your house resistant to lesser fires, it may survive.
Typically, homes burn because the roof catches fire — each broad expanse is an open invitation to windblown embers, whether from nearby homes or from burning vegetation in adjacent landscaping or wildland. So the best precaution you can take in a fire-prone area is to make your roof fire-resistant.
Roof materials are rated from A to C for resistance to fire, with A being the most resistant. Install a class A roof if you can. (See chart.) "The cost difference is so little that a B- or C-class roof doesn't make sense. Class A roofs make for safe communities," says Gerson Bers of Gale Associates in Mountain View, California, a roofing consulting firm.
After seeing to your roof, you can take many other steps to protect your home. These measures are based on the following principles:
Choosing the Right Roof
Life spans and costs vary dramatically by the job and location. Figures here are based on tearing a 3,200-square-foot roof off an uncomplicated 1,900-square-foot house, adding bracing where needed, and using solid 1/2-inch plywood decking and #30 roofing felt.
Check with local building officials about codes and necessary permits. Proper installation is critical to performance, appearance, and life span. – Barbara Boughton with Gary Kruse - see sunset website Choosing the right roof
Create a Landscape that Fights Fire
Create Defensible Zones
Wildfire spreads most readily in the wildland-urban interface, where homes are surrounded by native vegetation and woodland. In such locations, homeowner precautions are not only recommended, they may be required. What's right for your home will depend on the size and slope of your property (if you have a steep slope, take maximum precautions), your neighborhood, the type of climate and surrounding vegetation, and local regulations. Local fire departments are the best source of information for your area. The following zone guidelines are adapted from Colorado State Forest Service recommendations and are designed for homes in interface areas. Adapt these guidelines to your property.
ZONE 1. This zone extends 30 feet around the structure (up to 100 feet in high-hazard areas), measured outward from house eaves and attached structures like decks. Plant nothing within 3 to 5 feet of the house. Beyond that, maintain an irrigated greenbelt with ground covers, lawn, or mowed native vegetation. If you leave a tree in this zone, consider it part of the structure and extend the defensible space accordingly.
ZONE 2. This area, which extends 75 to 100 feet outward from the structure (farthest on sloped properties and in dry-summer areas), is a fuel reduction zone. Clear away all dead vegetation, remove tree branches below 10 feet, and properly space plants (there should be 10 feet between the crowns of trees, for instance). Irrigate if possible.
ZONE 3. This is any area of native vegetation extending beyond the edge of your groomed space. If possible, remove diseased or dying trees and keep trails clear. – Lance Walheim
Select Plants Intelligently
Selecting plants in fire country isn't simple. Plants should be chosen not only according to their fire resistance — low growth habit, low fuel volume, high moisture content — but also for such factors as their drought tolerance, deep-rooting habit, attractiveness, and compatibility with other plants in your garden and the native environment. Generally, you want to avoid highly flammable ones (see list below). And if you garden on a slope, you must consider the slope's stability. Broad-leafed and succulent plants tend to burn less readily than plants with needlelike foliage or fine leaves. A trailing or compact form of a plant, such as ceanothus, has a lower fuel load than upright forms. And plants like agapanthus and daylilies have little fuel supply.
But don't think one plant will solve all your problems. Although ice plant has a high moisture content and doesn't burn as readily as some plants, setting out masses of it is not a cure-all. The bright flowers of some kinds (Drosanthemum, Lampranthus) can be aesthetically incompatible with native chaparral. Carpobrotus won't prevent (and can even cause) slippage on a steep slope during heavy rains, and some kinds build up woody growth, which must be cleared out every five years or so.
Plants with low fuel volume, such as dusty miller, lavender, rockrose, santolina, and wallflower, are seemingly good choices. But because they're short-lived and must be replaced periodically, they may not be suitable for mass plantings.
Although many native species (oaks and manzanitas) burn readily, they're often good choices away from a house because of their drought resistance and ability to resprout after a fire. Choose low-growing ones and space them widely apart.
If you're unsure which plants will fit all these requirements, consult with a landscape architect, horticulturist, wildland specialist, or forester with knowledge of and experience in fire saftey in your area.
Plants to Avoid
These plants are among those known for the amount of dead fuel that accumulates in them, and the high oil, high resin, or low moisture content of their leaves and branches.
If you already have one or more of these, don't rip all of them out if they're essential to your landscape's look or soil stability. But if you're planting a new landscape, most shouldn't be used. Native plants (toyon and manzanita) can be planted sparingly if spaced widely. The bottom line: all plants are flammable if not pruned periodically, and the risk attached to any one kind of plant can be greatly diminished with maintenance.
Home Owner's To-Do List
Every Few Years
ref: Sunset Magazine - Sunset Magazine Web Site
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