Disaster-Proof Your Home

By Dean Fosdick, for the Associated Press

Smart landscaping can go a long way toward keeping your home safe from fire.
Development, drought and fuel are the standard ingredients in wildfire recipes, said Joe Lehnen, a state forester from Woodstock, Va., whose responsibilities include defending forest lands in the northern Shenandoah Valley.

"Having a continuous blanket (of vegetation) from the forest up to the house makes it almost impossible for volunteer firefighters or for the Forest Service to save a home," Lehnen said. "The houses themselves become fuel."

So before you buy that secluded, end-of-the-road property, ask some key questions. Is it located near an avalanche chute or within a severe fire zone? Is the region hurricane, earthquake or tornado prone and subject to mudslides?

Here are some other suggestions:

—Eliminate "fire ladders" or chains of fuel between buildings and vegetation. Inventory the yard to determine what is flammable and what can carry flames to the house. Then go out and do something about it.

—Maintain a clean yard. Avoid plants that ignite easily and burn quickly. Consider succulents, plants that store water in their fleshy leaves and stems, as firebreaks. They demand little or no care once established and thrive in drought conditions, too.

—Rock gardens, stone walkways and raised flower or vegetable beds slow the advance of wildfires.

—Minimize vegetation, especially trees and shrubbery, to at least 30 feet from the house. Clean and thin brush up to 100 feet.

— Provide a wide enough entry for emergency vehicles, including firefighting apparatus.

— Establish a dependable water supply. That could include a pond, swimming pool or a well with a high-volume pump.