Protecting your home and the people in it during fire season is all about creating what Cal Fire terms a “defensible space.”
This involves removing all combustible materials within a certain distance from your home and maintaining a fire safe landscape. Cal Fire recommends contacting your local fire department for specific fire prevention requirements in your area as those details vary from city to city. For example, Paso Robles issues very specific weed abatement guidelines depending on the size of your lot, whereas the Five Cities Fire Authority says all combustible, noxious or dangerous weeds can’t be taller than 4 inches.
A fire safe landscape consists of fire resistant plants and/or some native plants, green lawn, or noncombustible materials such as rock or stone. Plants and shrubs within the first 30 feet or more from your home should be irrigated and low growing.
Cal Fire suggests the first 100 feet from your home should have no trees or shrubs over 18 inches in height. If there are already trees and shrubs within that area, branches should be at least 10 feet from the roof and chimney, trees should be spaced at least 10 feet apart, shrubs should be well spaced, and all should be pruned regularly. The goal is to prevent “fire ladders,” which are continuous paths of vegetation that carry fire from plant to plant and then to your home.
When selecting plants for a fire-safe landscape, look for those that are low growing and high in moisture content. Good examples are yarrow, alyssum, lavender, creeping rosemary and, of course, succulents. Plants to avoid are those high in oil or resin content, those with papery or peeling bark, and plants that retain a lot of dead or dry material. Examples of plants that fall into this category include pine, eucalyptus, manzanita, California sagebrush and juniper.
An excellent, easy to read, yet detailed resource on this subject is University of California ANR Publication 8228, “Home Landscaping for Fire,” which can be found at: http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8228.pdf.