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What Is Defensible Space?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2016
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Defensible space is the area immediately around a structure where vegetation should be reduced to limit fuel sources for fires. In regions prone to wildfires, there may be legal defensible space requirements that homeowners must follow, while in others, it may be strongly recommended. Clearing an area around a home can reduce the chance that a nearby fire will jump to the building, and may make it easier to fight fires in the event of an incident. In some regions, fire departments may offer assistance with brush clearing and other activities if people are physically unable to create the necessary space.

Within this zone, which may extend 30 feet (approximately 9 meters) to 100 feet (30 meters) all the way around the structure, combustible materials should be limited. Dead leaves, branches, and other organic detritus can be removed and piled for later disposal through burning or mulching. Wood piles should be relocated, while lawn furniture and accessories should be spaced to make it harder for fire to jump between them. The ground does not have to be barren, but trees and shrubs should be trimmed to create space between them and the home.

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If trees and shrubs are particularly dense, it may be necessary to thin them to create defensible space, especially if a home is on a steep slope. This eliminates the “fire ladder,” the path a fire can take to jump between combustible objects in the environment. In addition to reducing the risk of fire damage, this can have other benefits, like letting more light into a home, which may reduce mold and mildew. Trimming plants away from the home can also eliminate routes used by insect and animal pests.

Firescaping, as landscaping to address concerns about fires is known, can include a variety of plants, including groundcovers to prevent soil erosion. The goal is not to create a barren zone around a home, but to limit fuel sources as much as possible. Creating defensible space also makes it easier to maneuver firefighting equipment and approach a structure during a fire, which can increase the chances of saving property or preventing extensive damage.

Regional fire departments may have specific advice on defensible space, considering common vegetation in the area and issues like narrow roads that could limit access in an emergency. People who are concerned about their physical ability to clear the area around a home may be able to receive community assistance. Preventing structure fires doesn’t just benefit landlords, but also other people in the area, by eliminating sources of fuel that can keep a fire going.

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