Douglas County residents may be planting the seeds of wildfire damage by using flammable mulch and shrubs in the landscaping near their homes. And insurance inspectors are taking notice.
When your home backs to open space or grasslands, these can be a wildfire risk. Planting junipers, mugo pines or using flammable mulches next to your home can substantially increase the risk of embers landing there and igniting your home,” said Larkspur based wildfire mitigation specialist, Keith Worley.
Purchasing a home within a half-mile of brush in wildfire-prone areas may prevent a larger insurer from writing a policy on your home
“…California, for example, you may be forced to shop smaller, high-risk insurers, which might charge three times more, independent agents say,” – MSN Real Estate
According to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, “there are three threats or exposures that a building can experience during a wildfire, grassfire or brushfire: windborne embers, radiant heat, and direct flame contact. Ember exposure is considered the most important, because most building ignitions have been attributed to them.”
Douglas County and southern Jefferson County homeowners may view wildfire as a rural issue. However, in the age of mega-fires like in Black Forest and Waldo Canyon coupled with recent drought cycles, homeowners need to realize that as the interface between wild lands and suburban areas increase, so will the chance of fire.
Given the recent approval of Sterling Ranch near Roxborough State Park, Douglas County will likely experience an increase in the number of homes within areas that require defensible space between landscaping and home.
Insurance inspectors are paying close attention to shrubs and mulch in your yard when they write a fire policy. Worley said that he encountered a homeowner who told him that an insurance inspector required him to remove some shrubs that were considered flammable before approving the policy.
Home insurers like to see a defensible space of 15 feet between a structure and plants and landscaping. The species of plant, the spacing of them and the maintenance are key factors in making sure that landscaping doesn’t become fuel in a wildfire event. Or a roadblock to getting homeowners insurance.
Piled firewood, pine needles in gutters and tall native grasses can also lead a wildfire right to a home. In windy areas, homeowners are installing recycled rubber tire mulch which is less likely to blow away. But it creates the potential for a fire hazard. “You’re basically installing a potential rubber tire fire around your home when using that type of mulch,” Worley said.
This video of the Melody Lane Fire in Reno offers a dramatic portrait of how quickly a brush fire can spread.
Notice that this landscape doesn’t have the large forested areas we commonly think about with a forest fire. Yet within 6 minutes several homes are ablaze.
Flammable shrubs and landscape material are the number one way that homes burn down during a wildfire event. That’s according to Firewise Communities, an organization that promotes individual and collaborative action in preparing homes and properties for wildfire.
However, these risks are not limited to wildfire. Fire fighters in urban areas such as the city of Denver are wary of homes that are ringed by juniper bushes and mulch because of the higher chance of rapid burning and even explosions. Junipers and other evergreens contain high amounts of resin which can have an explosive effect during fires. Mulch contains all kinds of chemicals and materials which can make controlling a house fire more difficult.
While home developers may take the initial precautions when developing and building a community, it’s important for individual homeowners to be aware of the risks and planning accordingly.
Here is an article about FireWise plant materials as recommended by Colorado State University. There’s also a long list of fire-resistant shrubs and plants at the end. While no plant is fully fireproof, carefully planning the species, spacing and maintenance of your landscape will please insurers and may help save your home should a wildfire occur.
– Matt Johnson