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How to protect your house from a wildfire with plants

On average, about 1,445 structures are destroyed by wildfires each year in California. There have been more than 8,000 damaged and destroyed in California this year.
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One of the most important ways you can help your home survive a wildfire is by incorporating fire-safe landscape concepts.
Fire threatens a home in three ways:

Embers: Embers can move up to a mile ahead of a fire in windy conditions. This makes good roofing and removal of flammable material within 5 feet of the house critical.
Radiant heat: A nearby fire can heat the surface of building materials to a point where combustion occurs.
Flame impingement: Transfer of heat by direct flame exposure.

The map below shows moderate, high and very high fire hazard severity zones in Southern California.

Home safety checklist

Your best option is to use fire-resistant building materials.  The roof and exterior structure of your dwelling should be constructed of noncombustible or fire-resistant materials such as tile, slate, sheet iron, aluminum, brick or stone.
Wood siding, cedar shakes, exterior wood paneling and other highly combustible materials should be treated with fire-retardant chemicals.
Planting for protection
What and where residents plant affects a home’s vulnerability to fire. Here are the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ two-zone guidelines.

Eliminate dry vegetation from underneath trees. These “ladder fuels” allow ground fires to jump into tree crowns.
Low-fuel plants: Lawn, vegetable gardens, ice plant, agapanthus, oleander, daylily, pyracantha, star jasmine, periwinkle, redbud, morning glory, potato vine, yucca
Gravel or rock gardens serve as firebreaks.
Plant trees so that canopies don’t touch. Tree branches should be at least 10 feet from chimney.

ZONE 2 (30+ feet from house)

Remove tree limbs within 10 feet of ground.
Thin out shrubs and underbrush.
Low-fuel plants: Yarrow, coreopsis, lantana, lavender, sage, yucca

California Native Plant Society recommendations (PDF)
Some dont’s

Don’t allow overgrown brush and flammable plants to overhang the roof.
Don’t keep firewood or gas grills close to home.
Don’t block the side yard, preventing access for firefighters
Don’t plant scented plants such as rosemary and lavender; they have volatile oils that ignite easily.

Planting alternatives
Some plants are described as fire resistant but given certain conditions all plants can burn.  Deciduous trees and plants with high moisture content are generally more fire-resistant.

Sources: University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Cal Fire, U.S.D.A. Forest Service,
File illustrations
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