Prevent Wildfire Damage To Your Property; Create Defensible Space!

By Open Space Manager Sean Warren

Early season wildfires across the Front Range have many firefighters thinking that 2013 could be a long and active fire season in our region, and while Open Space staff are nervous about wildfires flaring up on Ken-Caryl Ranch, efforts to mitigate hazardous wildfire fuels in our Open Space over the past few years should go a long way in reducing the negative effects of destructive fires in our community.

Two important documents adopted by the Master Association Board guide staff activity in this area. They are the Ken-Caryl Ranch Open Space Fuels Management Plan and the Ken-Caryl Ranch Forest Stewardship Plan. Since the adoption of these plans, staff has been thinning out overgrown areas and creating fuel breaks at several locations including Manor House Trail, Tin Cup, North Ranch, Eagles Pointe and Brannon Gearhart Park.

Staff has also stepped up efforts to control cheat grass, an exotic grass that is highly flammable and carries fires into heavier, woody fuels. The Fuels Management Plan, adopted by the Board in 2008, besides making recommendations for fuel mitigation work at specific locations in Open Space, also puts great emphasis on the importance of individual property owners creating defensible space around their homes and promotes the use of FireWise building materials. The following excerpt from the plan explains how defensible space is created.

The West Metro Community Wildfire Protection Plan promoted defensible space and FireWise landscaping as a primary tool to protect property and structures from wildfire damage or loss. Defensible space is a landscaping practice in which flammable vegetation has been removed at least 30 feet from structures to provide a zone of protection and allow firefighters an unobstructed area to maneuver during emergency situations.

A defensible space also breaks up fuel continuity and reduces the overall wildfire hazards to a community. Defensible space should be created following CSFS guidelines, Creating Wildfire Defensible Zones, Bulletin No. 6.302 (Dennis 2003). Jefferson County defensible space requirements are consistent with CSFS guidelines.

According to CSFS guidelines, the installation of a defensible space consists of three zones that can be adapted to specific building lot situations. Since many Ken-Caryl Ranch private properties are not large enough to install all three zones, homeowners should at least establish Zone 1 to a distance of 30 feet from their homes to the extent possible. This is especially important for dwellings that are adjacent to Open Space areas.

Zone 1 consists of three to five feet from the structure that is a non-combustible area consisting of such things as decorative rock or mowed, irrigated grass depending on the flammability of the building siding. Homeowners should be aware that expansive soils exist throughout Ken-Caryl Ranch and should exercise prudence when irrigating next to building foundation.

Well-spaced and pruned, low-flammable plants are acceptable if the structure has noncombustible siding. In the remaining 30 feet, low-flammable plants should be used for landscaping. The lower branches of trees should be pruned five to 10 feet from the ground (not to exceed one-third of the tree height). Woody and herbaceous plant debris, tall grass and ladder fuels (low limbs, small trees and shrubs that may carry fire into tree crowns) should be removed. Leaves and overhanging branches should be removed from the roof and gutters. Leaves should be removed from under decks and porches.

The 30-foot area should be irrigated as appropriate. Woodpiles should be removed and stored away from structures. Homeowners should mow the allowed four-foot buffer into Open Space from their property boundary to reinforce the defensible space on their own property. If a homeowner is concerned that the allowed four-foot buffer is insufficient or that adjacent woody plants from Open Space pose a wildfire hazard, they may contact the KCRMA Ranger staff that will perform a wildfire hazard assessment to determine if the buffer should be expanded or any additional mitigation work in Open Space is needed. It has been determined that most properties bordering Open Space have enough distance between homes, other structures and Open Space vegetation to create effective defensible space on the homeowner’s property.

Two publications that provide information on appropriate plants to use for defensible space landscaping have been prepared by CSFS: Grass Seed Mixes to Reduce Wildfire Hazard, Bulletin No. 6.306 (Dennis, undated), and FireWise Plant Materials, Bulletin 6.305 (Dennis, undated). Both publications promote the use of low-flammable native plants for landscaping in fire prone areas

Ken-Caryl Ranch