Wildfires and Log Homes

Sue | June 3rd, 2013 - 2:49 pm
smoke from widlfires in montana and wyoming

Smoke from Wildfires on Montana Wyoming Border September 2012– Photo taken mid day

Wildfires– fast, furious, hot, destructive, and consuming everything in its path. The summer and fall of 2012 marked the worst fire damage and lingering smoke we have experienced since the Yellowstone National Park fires of 1988.  Some areas of the west are already experiencing fires this season. Protecting your log home is two fold. As I wrote about a few months ago in the article entitled, “Log Homes and Homeowner’s Insurance- Are You Covered , having a very good up-to-date homeowner’s insurance policy that is customized to the TRUE value of your custom log home is vital to protecting your home.

The other vital part of protection involved prevention.

Defensible Space

Let me introduce you to “defensible space”. The first time I ever heard reference to this term was after several homes were lost in Sliverbow County of Montana. At a town meeting after the fire an elderly lady said there were fire truck tire tracks in her driveway but the fire fighters had simply past on and not fought the fire at her home. She lost everything in the fire. The fire fighters said that she did not have defensible space around her home, so they moved on to another residence with defensible space.

Defensible space suddenly became extremely interesting to me. Basically, it is the concept of tailoring your landscaping around your house to encourage fires to go around your residence instead of encouraging it to spread.

Defensible space is based on two different zones around your log home.

Before we get into the details of defensible space I want to share a fire story with you. A friend of ours has horses and about 10 acres. A fire burned down over the hill across the public land and then burned right along the side of the dirt road directly across from her driveway. Then the fire turned and followed the edge of where the grass had been grazed by cattle and diverted the fire away from her home. After the fire all the neighbors around her began to ask her to graze her horses on their 5 and 10 acre lots surrounding their homes. Diann went from having almost no pasture for her three horses to having about 80 acres to utilize. It also helped the homeowners as it kept the yards and little fields around each home eaten down to reduce potential fuel for a future fire. So if you have some acreage you might consider letting some grazing animals have access to the fields.

Zone 1

The first zone is measured 30 feet from the edge of all home walls, garage walls, decks, and covered porches. Within this 30 foot space it is recommended that all dead grass, weeds, and plants be cleaned up and removed. All dead leaver or pine needles need to be cleaned off of your roof and out of the rain gutters. While willowy trees spreading their branches over the roof and down towards the ground are picturesque, these boughs can accelerate the spread of a fire. So be sure to trim all branches 10 feet from other trees and 10 feet from the house and chimney. Trees should not be allowed to ‘lace’ their branches together forming a ‘wall’ or single unit that close to the log home.

Wood piles for winter should be moved further than 30 feet from the cabin. Clean up all around and under decks and porches. Clearing away plants or combustible things between items like lawn furniture, swing sets, sheds, and small wood pile (larger ones should be located in Zone 2 away from the home) and other plants and trees help to prevent flames from spreading.

Zone 2

Zone 2 is the range of 30 to 70 feet from the edge of Zone 1. While further away from the home, this is also a vital part of protecting your home. All grass should be mowed to no more than 4 inches high. Make horizontal and vertical spaces between trees, shrubs, and grass. All dead plant vegetation from bark to pine cones, leaves to grass, should be gathered up and removed. The idea is to eliminate easy places for a spark to land and ignite. (Note: The articles I referred to for this article also noted that San Diego County, CA requires 50 feet of space in Zone 1 instead of only 30. Be sure to check with your local fire department for any defensible space or weed abatement laws.)

Moving on…

Plant Spacing

While trees are lovely and bushes attractive, keeping space between them helps prevent a fire from spreading. How much space is needed between plants? It depends on the height and breath of the vegetation. It is also important to estimate how large a plant will become when it is full grown. If too many trees are planted too close together then some will need to be removed in the future.

In connection with place size, the second aspect of spacing involves the lie of the land. With a steep slope, plants or trees need to be spaced further apart.

A level property with less than about a 20% slope can have trees closer together. It is recommended that all tress within 100 feet of the log home have the bottom six feet of branches cut off.

When planting new trees or caring for established trees, allow more space, instead of less, between each. Remove trees or bushes that are too close together.  When trees or bushes are together allow 3 times the height of the bush to the lowest tree bough. So if a bush is four feet high the adjacent tree should not have branches any lower than 12 feet. This is called vertical space.

A fire burning across the ground has to have an avenue to reach up a tree. A single trunk is much less flammable than when all of the lower branches bend down and touch or nearly touch the ground.

Horizontal space is the room between plants along the ground. Going along a flat stretch of lawn, it is a good idea to keep 2 times the height of the shrubs between each. For tall trees a distance of ten feet of open space between tree tops is sufficient.

When your yard is on a moderate slope of 20% to 40% bushes should be spaced four times the height of the plant or bush between them. For taller trees a minimum of 20 feet of clear sky should be kept between them.

And finally, when your yard is a slope of 40% or greater the plants should be spaces 6 times the height of the plant or bush. For tall trees 30 feet of clearance between tree tops is recommended.

Also of interest is fire safe landscaping, but this is beyond the scope of my article for this afternoon. If you find some good information on fire safe landscaping be sure email it to me at sue@cowboyloghomes.com

So keep your home safe. I recently spoke with a land owner in Northern California. He had purchased his property and began just mowing it and removing the dead brush and trees from around his future home site. The next spring a flash fire began a short distance away from his property. When the fire reached the perimeter of his property the lack of dead vegetation made the fire turn and go a different direction, saving his land. So I do believe defensible space is a help to safe guarding your custom log home asset.

Cowboy Log Homes



Any projected costs, cost estimates, material costs, and estimated construction/ building costs, are only the opinion of Cowboy Log Homes and are drawn from our experience. Every home is custom tailored to meet our individual client's wants and desires. The construction of a log or timber home is based on two primary costs: material provided by the log home company and construction costs contracted with Cowboy Log Homes as the builder or another builder of the customer's choice. Final costs are obtained and contracted with each respectively. Cowboy Log Homes is simply the "glue" that helps bring these two together to provide a final culmination of a customer's project. * Please note photos and elevations may differ some from accompanying floor plans.
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