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Creating an Effective Survivable Space

How to protect your home and property

Minnesota FireWise Information

From the National Wildland Fire Prevention/Education Team:
How to Protect Your Home and Property
Are you worried about the wildfire threat to your home, but aren't sure how to get started making your home survivable? Follow these recommendations to an effective, survivable space.

Is there at least a 30-foot-wide area surrounding your home that is "Lean, Clean and Green?"

Diagram with guidelines for keeping a lean, clean, green space around your wildland home.

Lean...small amounts of flammable vegetation. accumulation of dead vegetation or other flammable debris.
Green...plants are healthy and green during the fire season.

[Prune: Branches and limbs 6?10 feet off the ground on all trees within a 30 to 100 foot radius of buildings.]

[Remove: Limbs within 10 feet of chimney, and dead limbs overhanging buildings.]

[Screen: Half-inch mesh screen on chimney outlet.]

[Clean: All needles and leaves off roofs and out of gutters.]

Lean, Clean, Green checklist

  • Emphasize the use of low-growing herbaceous (non-woody) plants that are kept green during the fire season. Herbaceous plants include lawn, clover, a variety of ground covers, bedding plants, bulbs, and perennial flowers.
  • Deciduous ornamental trees and shrubs are acceptable if they are kept green, free of dead plant material, ladder fuels are removed, and individual plants or groups of plants are arranged in a manner in which adjacent wildland vegetation cannot convey a fire through them to the structure.
  • Where permitted, wildland shrubs and trees should be removed from this zone and replaced with more nonwoody plants such as flowers. Individual specimens or small groups of wildland shrubs and trees can be retained so long as they are kept healthy, free of dead wood, and pruned to reduce the amount of fuel and height, and ladder fuels are removed.
  • For some areas substantial removal of wildland vegetation may not be allowed. In these instances, wildland vegetation should conform to the recommended separation distances, should be kept free of dead plant materials, pruned to remove ladder fuels and reduce fuel load, and arranged so it cannot readily convey a fire from the wildlands to the house. Please become familiar with local requirements before removal of wildland vegetation.
  • Tree limbs within 15 feet of a chimney, encroaching on power lines, or touching the house should be removed.

What trees and shrubs and fuels do I have within my survivable space?

Fuel Type

Recommended Practice

Dried grasses & wildflowers

Once grasses and wildflowers have dried out or "cured", cut down and remove from the survivable space area.

Needles, leaves & branches (on the ground)

Reduce thick layers of pine needles on the ground to a depth of 2 inches. Do not disturb the "duff" layer (dark area at the ground surface where needles are decomposing) if present. Remove dead leaves, twigs, cones, and branches that are within the survivable space area.

Shrubs & trees

Remove all dead shrubs and trees from within the defensible space area.

Firewood & other combustibles

Locate firewood, LPG tanks, and combustible debris (wood scraps, grass clippings, leaf piles, etc.) at least 30 feet away from any buildings.

The more continuous and dense the vegetation, the greater the wildfire threat. If this situation is present within your survivable space area, you should "break it up." This can be done in a variety of ways, depending on the type and arrangement of the vegetation. On the table to the right, look for the vegetation type you have in your yard and follow the recommended practice in the table. This will make your yard more fire safe.

Are there ladder fuels present within the survivable space area? Vegetation is often present at varying heights similar to the rungs of a ladder. Under these conditions, flames from fuels burning at ground level, such as a thick layer of pine needles, can be carried to shrubs that can ignite still higher fuels like tree branches. Vegetation that allows a fire to move from lower growing plants to taller ones are referred to as "ladder fuels."

The ladder fuel problem can be corrected by providing a separation between the vegetation layers. This can be accomplished by reducing the height of shrubs, removing the lower tree branches, or both. The shrubs could also be removed.

Diagram illustrating the difference between continuous, dense, uninterrupted vegetation and patchy vegetation or widely spaced individual plants.




Fire spread is governed by the fine nonwoody fuels that have cured or are nearly cured. Fires are surface fires that move rapidly through cured grass and associated material. Very little shrub or timber is present, generally less than one-third of the area. Open pine stands with an understory of grass and timber litter can be included in this category, contributing to higher fire intensity.

Slow burning ground fires with low flame heights are generally the case, although an occasional "jackpot" or heavy fuel concentration may cause a flare-up. Conifer stands with heavy fuel loading of balsam fir, windthrow, diseased trees, and cured slash contribute to possible torching of trees, spotting and crowning activity.

Pine plantations with a continuous canopy also contribute to higher fire intensity. This may lead to potential fire control difficulties.

Generally, hardwood stands such as oak, maple, basswood and aspen do not experience much fire activity.

During drought conditions, stands with an understory of grass and conifers may see an occasional fire. Fire intensity is influenced by wind speed and fuel moisture.

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