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Virginia Firescapes: Firewise Landscaping for Woodland Homes



Authors as Published

Virginia Firewise Landscaping Task Force


housefire.gif In Virginia, one of every three forest fires now threatens at least one woodland home. Forest fires damaged 98 structures in 1995 and 40 in 1996.

The Firescape

When the forest becomes a community, forest fires and homes are inseparable.

A home in a woodland setting is surrounded by flammable vegetation. Firewise landscaping can help you create a defensible space or buffer zone around your home. This not only helps to keep fire from approaching your woodland home, but it also provides a safe space in which firefighters can work.

Your goal in firewise landscaping should be to "break the chain" of fuel between homes and natural vegetation. Examine the yard and determine what can catch fire and what can carry fire to the house.

Landscaping Zones

Landscaping zones should be used when planning for fire protection.

Zone 1: house to 5 ft. from house -
Have nothing flammable next to the house, including trees, brush, tall grass, leaves, firewood piles, bark mulch and other burnables. Carefully examine decks overhanging dense vegetation and trees overhanging thehouse for possible fire transfer.

Zone 2: 5 ft. to 10 ft. from house -
Maintain a well kept lawn and avoid evergreens that catch fire easily and burn quickly. Use raised beds, rock gardens, stone walkways, walls and patios to create visual interest while maintaining a fuel break. Any trees used in this zone should be kept small and should be at least 10 ft. from the house. Leave 10-15-ft. spaces between tree crowns, and prune or limb trees to a height of 10-15 ft. up from the ground.

Zone 3: 30 ft. to 100 ft. from house -
Remove yard debris and thin vegetation out to at least 30 ft. from the house. Clear and thin up to 100 ft. on the downhill side. Shrubs and groundcovers should be well maintained, kept free of dead material, and kept small. Control brush and weeds annually. Steep slopes can be terraced to slow wildfires down.

Choose Special Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubs with the following characteristics are more desirable to have in a firewise landscape:

High leaf moisture and low leaf oil or resin content.
Minimal litter and accumulated debris potential.
Limited foliage and few dead branches.
Low overall height.
Open, loose branching habit.
Easy maintenance and low pruning requirements.
Drought resistant
(See Lists of "More or Less" Forest Fire Prone Trees, Shrubs and Ground Covers in .pdf file linked at top right of page)

Landscaping Zones - Site Plan


Virginia Firewise Landscaping Task Force

Bonnie Lee Appleton
Hampton Roads AREC, Virginia Tech

Cindy L. Frenzel
Virginia Department of Forestry

Julie B. Hillegass
Virginia Dare Soil and Water Conservation District

Robert E. Lyons
Department of Horticulture, Virginia Tech

Larry G. Steward
Land Stewards of North American, Ltd.


Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, re-print, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.


Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Alan L. Grant, Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; Jewel E. Hairston, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.


May 1, 2009