Defensible Space for Wildfire Protection
Defensible space is the area around a home or other structure where flammable vegetation is modified and maintained to slow the spread of wildfire. Defensible space also creates a safe zone for firefighters to work and reduces the chance of a structure fire moving to the surrounding forest and other homes.
Importance of Defensible Space
Wildfires are a natural part of Colorado’s forest ecosystems. More than 80% of forested lands within Summit County are comprised of lodgepole pine, a highly flammable species that relies on disturbance such as wildfire for regeneration. Because our neighborhoods are surrounded by forests, we must employ proactive management strategies to reduce the potential impacts of wildfire. Creating defensible space around homes is a critical aspect of protecting mountain communities.
Every home in Summit County should have defensible space.
Creating Defensible Space
To create defensible space around your residence or business, divide your property into zones and then reduce or eliminate vegetation in each zone according to proven wildfire mitigation strategies.
This includes the home and the area 0-5' from the furthest attached exterior point of the home. Create a non-combustible zone: Remove dead leaves, debris and pine needles from gutters, replace loose shingles or roof tiles, install 1/8 inch metal mesh screening on vents, repair or replace damaged or loose window screens, and remove all flammable material away from walls and from underneath decks and porches.
This includes the area 5-30' from the furthest exterior point of the home. Manage landscaping to create breaks that will help decrease the spread of a wildfire: Clear vegetation from under propane tanks, create fuel breaks with driveways, paths, patios and decks, keep all grass mowed to 4", prune trees up to 6-10' from the ground (not to exceed 1/3 of tree height), space trees at least 18' between crowns (more distance required on slopes), ensure mature tree canopy is no closer than 10' to the home, and limit trees and shrubs to small clusters of a few each to create breaks in the landscape.
This includes the area 30-100 ', out to 200' from the home. Manage this area to break up the path of fire and keep flames smaller and on the ground: Remove heavy accumulations of ground litter, remove dead plant and tree material, remove small conifers growing between mature trees, remove vegetation adjacent to storage sheds or outbuildings, space trees 30-60' from home so there are at least 12' between canopy tops, space trees 60-100' from home so there are at least 6' between canopy tops.
Source: National Fire Protection Association
Summit County provides resources to help residents create defensible space and pursue other wildfire-mitigation strategies:
- The Summit County Chipping Program provides free chipping and slash removal for residents and property owners who create defensible space.
- Summit County offers Wildfire Mitigation Grants to eligible homeowner groups who conduct hazardous fuels reduction and other projects to protect homes from wildfire.
- The Basics of Defensible Space and the Home Ignition Zone: Recommendations from Firewise Communities Program
- Protecting Your Home From Wildfire - Creating Wildfire Defensible Zones: Recommendations from the Colorado State Forest Service
For more information on defensible space, call (970) 668-4140.
Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Summit County cooperating. Extension programs available to all without discrimination.