Defensible Space Protects Homes from Wildfires

Another destructive wildfire season is underway in California, and residents who want to minimize the risk of losing their home to a wildfire should start with ensuring their property has defensible space.

A wildfire burns down the forest near a building.

A wildfire burns down the forest near a building.

Defensible space around a home is such a critical element to protecting properties—and any firefighters trying to save homes during a wildfire—that 100 feet of defensible space is required by law for many California residents.

Cal Fire has guidelines to create a home’s defensible space in two zones, with both horizontal and vertical spacing being important factors:

Zone 1

This is the most immediate space around the home and extends 30 feet out from structures, decks, etc. Some suggestions for this zone include removing dead plants, grass, and weeds; clearing dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof, and rain gutters; trimming trees regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees and from the chimney; and removing or pruning flammable plants and shrubs near windows.

Zone 2

This area extends 100 feet out from the home, other structures, decks, etc.—a “reduced fuel zone” of 70 feet (or to the property line). In this zone, cut or mow grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches; remove fallen leaves, needles, twigs, cones, etc., to no more than a depth of 3 inches; trim branches less than 6 feet from the ground and eliminate any small shrubs under tree canopies; and keep wood piles and flammable materials at least 30 feet from your home.

Cal Fire also emphasizes the importance of using equipment around the home properly to avoid sparking a wildfire. This includes mowing in the morning before 10 a.m., and never on a hot or windy day. Line trimmers are a safer option for clearing vegetation than lawnmowers, which can cause sparks if they hit a rock or aren’t working properly.

Another line of defense against wildfires is hard-scaping with materials such as concrete, stone, brick, asphalt, etc. If consulting a professional landscape architect, verify the status of their license through the state Landscape Architects Technical Committee website at

For more information about defensible space and state legal requirements, visit Cal Fire’s

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