Prepare your yard for wildfire season by creating a low-flammable landscaping plan, finding fire-resistant plants with new database

Posted on in category Local tagged Conservation , Fire Season , Gardening , Planning , Planting

Explore low-flammable landscapes to protect your land and home from fire risk. Learn more here.

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Ashland residents concerned their home isn’t ready to ward off a fire are inviting wildfire mitigation specialist Charisse Sydoriak to walk their property and show them how they can reduce the likelihood that a blaze will bring destruction.

One way to adapt to what Sydoriak considers inevitable wildfires: Low-flammable landscapes.

Careful selection, spacing and maintenance of plants growing safe distances from a structure can be lifesavers, whether in a wildfire-prone zone or not.

Homeowners who request a free fire-risk evaluation of their property through the Ashland Volunteer Wildfire Risk Assessment Program, which Sydoriak co-founded, aren’t obligated to follow the advice based on fire science. But many do.

They clear out woody debris, keep low-growing greenery in small clusters and look for fire-reluctant plants to replace combustible trees and shrubs such as arborvitae and juniper.

What are better alternatives to grow? Sydoriak has spent hundreds of hours researching fire-resistant landscaping options and discovered that “fire-wise” and “fire safe” plant lists have issues.

One of her concerns — “a major shortcoming,” she calls it — of all plant lists she’s seen is there is no standardized methodology for testing flammability or assigning plants to home ignition zones, closest and farthest from structures.Home ignition zones, as defined by the National Fire Protection Association, are the immediate zone, which is the dwelling and five feet around it; the intermediate zone up to 30 feet beyond the home; and the extended zone, which is up to 200 feet away and might include the neighbor’s property.

Keeping trees, shrubs and plants confined within appropriate areas can prevent a fire from spreading, say experts. Danger increases if plants are dry, accumulate dead material and are too close to structures and other combustible materials.

Most fire experts agree that where plants are placed and how they are maintained are more important than the type of plant.

“All plants will burn given the right conditions,” says Sydoriak, who worked 35 years in fire and natural resources management.

Now retired in Ashland, she is serving on the Ashland Wildfire Safety Commission and the Medford Wildfire Mitigation Steering Committee. She has also been selected to join the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development’s Wildfire Mitigation Stakeholders Group.
Within five feet of a home, it’s best to only grow plants with high moisture content in containers that can be moved when wildfires threaten, Sydoriak says.

Concrete, stone and gravel walkways are also recommended to surround a house.

Certain deciduous trees and shrubs may safely be planted sparingly within the 10-to-30-foot home ignition zone.

But which ones?

Sydoriak’s investigations of plant lists have shown that species within the same genus do not necessarily have equivalent fire resistance, and size and growth form also influence the potential of a plant igniting.

As part of her useful living-with-fire.org website, Sydoriak has compiled a downloadable Plant List Generator, a work-in-progress database that allows people to see which plant species have been subject to flammability testing or have been identified as fire resistant by one or more respected sources.

Fire-resistant, low-flammable plants are best options to help create fire smart landscaping for your yard

Sydoriak says she started the fire-reluctant plant list project to know more and, in turn, to recommend smart replacements to homeowners after she suggests they pull out highly combustible landscape materials.
The timing to release her research couldn’t be better, as people are visiting nurseries to pick out new plants for spring while the destruction of recent Oregon wildfires is still seared in their memories.
No one wants to unintentionally plant incendiary garden flora, says Sydoriak.

Oregon’s Wildfire Risk

Oregon’s $200 million wildfire bill includes stricter building codes to make new or remodeled structures more fire hardened, but all owners need to maintain their property to prevent and slow a fire.

Research has found that fire suppression work reduces the vulnerability of a home and the entire community.

The Oregon Wildfire Risk Explorer tool lets people put in an address and receive a general summary of home ignition zones, along with recommendations to dampen the potential of wind-whipped flames.

But the wildfire risk tool is not a substitute for an on-the-ground site assessment by a professional forester or fire personnel, according to the website’s disclaimer.

In Portland, property owners in wildfire hazard zones can request a wildland-urban interface home assessment, conducted by Portland Fire & Rescue, to learn specific tasks that could reduce fueling a fire.

Concern is not restricted to rural and forested areas. Many fires start accidentally in a kitchen, garage or next to a shed, drought and dropping moisture levels are drying landscapes, making urban yards vulnerable, and wind-blown embers can fly for miles, say experts.

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