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Planning a Fire Safe Yard in Texas

published on July 5, 2012

firescape yard

Austin is known for its lush hill country vegetation, like the tree-laden neighborhoods of Lake Travis and Davenport Ranch, and it’s good to know homeowners can protect the landscape and their homes by firescaping their property. Firescaping means planning a lawn, yard, or landscape that will help retard the spread of fire if a wildfire breaks out nearby or if a neighboring home catches fire. There are many plants that can help prevent the growth and spread of a fire, and planning how these plants are laid out can have great effect on the benefits these plants may provide in an emergency situation.

After selecting suitable plants, the next step in firescaping is planning fire safety zones with fuel breaks. Fuel breaks are places that can slow the spread of fire and include spaces like driveways, flame retardant lawns, walkways, patios, parking areas, rock, brick or cement dividers, and even water features like Lake Austin. Fuel breaks are a vital component in every firescape design and also can be areas where wild vegetation has been thinned or replaced with less flammable plants. Bare ground is not recommended as a firescape element due to soil erosion and other concerns.

The 30 feet closest to a home is the most critical area to plan a well firescaped yard. This is an area where highly flammable fuels should be kept to a minimum and plants are kept green throughout the fire season. Homeowners should place well-irrigated perennials, low-growing or non-woody deciduous plants, and succulents here. A lawn is practical as a wildfire safety feature only if it can be kept watered and green. Since extensive areas of turf grass may not be right for everyone, good alternatives include clover, ground covers, and conservation grasses that are kept green. Adding rock mulches, stone patios, masonry, boulders, or rock planters are excellent fuel breaks and increase wildfire safety.

To create a well firescaped plan at your own home, follow the steps below from Texas A&M’s Agriflife Extension to create four fire safety zones:

Zone 1:

1. Provide at least a 30 foot buffer around a home where tall plants are not grown.

2. Mow tall dry grass and try to keep groundcover green and irrigated. Remove all dead growth.

3. Provide enough space for fire suppression equipment to access the entire site.

4. Use fire resistant plant species.

5. Use proper irrigation close to the home.

Zone 2

1. Use low growing, fire resistant plant species.

2. Use irrigation in this zone.

Zone 3

1. Plant low growing, fire resistant plants.

2. Properly place trees away from the 30 foot buffer.

3. The amount of vegetation should be low, to avoid sending flames out and upwards.

Zone 4

1. This is the furthest zone from the home, where trees are safest to plant.

2. Use natural plantings.

3. Thin out highly flammable species.

Although using fire resistant plants is important, appropriate planning and design is a large part of fire prevention.  An Austin Realtor can help a homeowner note changes that could be made to a property during an Austin home search.

Also, see Texas Plants that Help Prevent Wildfires and Creating a Fire Safety Plan for Austin Homes.

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