How to reduce risk of wildfire on your property

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Last Updated: 
October 13, 2006

REDMOND - More and more people are living in rural or remote forested settings. And every year more and more of these homes are destroyed by wildfire, costing tens of millions of dollars in damages and suppression costs.

Many of these homes could have been saved had landowners taken a few precautions to reduce fuels and make their home and property more "defensible." Will your home and property survive should a wildfire occur in your area?

"Although you may have fire protection provided by a local fire protection district, don't live under the illusion that firefighters will be able to extinguish a wildfire before it gets to your home and property," warned Stephen Fitzgerald, forestry specialist with the Oregon State University Extension Service in central Oregon.

"In the event of a large wildfire, firefighters will not enter property that has hazardous fuel conditions, placing themselves and fire-fighting equipment at risk.

Even if you have fire protection, it is your responsibility to take action and reduce fuels and other hazards around your home and property, said Fitzgerald.

To lessen the risk of wildfire, Fitzgerald offers a few simple steps to protect your home and property. A good time to do these activities is before the fire season, and many can be completed in just one weekend.

  • Create a "green-belt" (i.e., lawn) 10- to 30-feet wide around your home.
  • Landscape with fire-resistant plants in both irrigated and non-irrigated portions of your landscape.
  • Clean and remove pine needles and other debris from your roof and gutters annually.
  • Prune trees up to eight to 10 feet to eliminate "fuel ladders." You can vary the pruning height so your trees are more natural appearing.
  • Reduce the number of native shrubs under trees and in non-irrigated portions of your property.
  • Thin trees so that there is about 10 feet between tree crowns; clean up thinning debris.
  • Consider removing trees up against your house or with branches overhanging the roof. If you can't bring yourself to remove these trees, prune branches up so they are not in contact with the side of the house or roof.
  • Keep firewood stacked away and uphill from your home.
  • Replace a wood shake roof with a fire-resistant roof as soon as possible or feasible.
  • Display your address and lot number clearly at the end of your driveway.
  • When building a new home in a forested area, it helps to use fire-resistant siding and non-combustible composition, tile, or metal roofing materials; limit the amount of deck area because hot embers can ignite wooden decks; build on a level portion of your property when possible (fire burns faster on slopes); install alternative water (i.e. cistern) sources for firefighters because electric power often fails or is shut off during a fire making your well and outside faucets unusable; and create adequate access to your property for fire-fighting equipment to enter and egress easily. Check with your local fire protection district for ingress/egress standards.

For more information, Fitzgerald and OSU Extension horticulturist Amy Jo Waldo offer a publication on-line: Fire Resistant Plants for Home Landscapes (PDF). Printed copies are also available by sending a request for "Fire Resistant Plants for Home Landscapes" and self addressed stamped envelope and 60 cents a copy to: Deschutes County Extension, 1421 S. Hwy. 97, Redmond, OR, 97756-9654.

To learn more online about defensible space and landscaping for fire protection, visit:

* Firewise Home Page

* Oregon Dept. of Forestry Home Page

* U.S. Forest Service Fire Home Page

Contact your rural fire protection district office for fire-related information and regulations. Local field offices of the Oregon Department of Forestry and the OSU Extension Service can also help provide additional information or help direct you to other sources of information.

Author: Carol Savonen