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Firescaping: Protecting Your Home with a Fire-Resistant Landscape

Firescaping: Protecting Your Home with a Fire-Resistant Landscape

by Douglas Kent

Paperback(2nd Revised ed.)

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Learn the Essentials of Creating Beautiful, Fire-Resistant Properties

With wildfires getting more frequent and ferocious, approximately 120 million US citizens live with the threat of being overrun. Are you one of them? If so, Firescaping helps you create a safer environment. This unique form of landscaping design keeps your property healthy, clean, and clear. Land management expert Douglas Kent shares decades of experience working in many of the nation’s most flammable areas.

Get the information needed to determine your property’s degree of fire risk. Learn effective design strategies for your home and landscape, as well as key characteristics that make your property more accessible to firefighters. With checklists, simple instructions, and tips that truly work, this practical, hands-on guide is a valuable resource for homeowners, business owners, landscape professionals, and fire protection agencies. If you live in an area at risk, this book can help to prepare you and give you peace of mind.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780899979625
Publisher: Wilderness Press
Publication date: 10/08/2019
Edition description: 2nd Revised ed.
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 578,155
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 10.10(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Douglas Kent began work on Firescaping in 1992. He lived 25 miles northwest of the Tunnel Fire, which had devoured 25 lives and 2,900 homes in the Berkeley/Oakland Hills area of California. Both frightened and inspired, Kent began to compile a guide that would help prevent others from enduring such a tragedy.
In the years since, Kent has toured, worked with, and spoken to high-risk communities throughout California. He has been on the front lines of wildfires and has interviewed many survivors. With this edition of Firescaping, he uses all his years of fire experience to create a comprehensive resource that homeowners and at-risk communities nationwide can use to create more fire-resistant landscapes and structures.
Kent has 27 years of soot-filled experience in firescaping, but that is far from his only credential. He started gardening in 1979 and has written six other books, has worked on hundreds of landscape projects, has helped lead four statewide gardening campaigns, and has taught at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, since 2008.

Read an Excerpt


In the middle of a murky landscape stands a lone house. Its walls are a grayish, sticky black, and the ground cover of periwinkle and iris is singed and curled but still green. All surrounding shrubs are ash. The horizon is torn by jet-black, leafless trees. Chimneys and large piles of soot are seen in the distance, the only remains of the neighbors’ houses.

The scene described above accompanies almost every fire. In the midst of a charred landscape sits a single home, somehow protected from the fire that consumed all others. This chapter emphasizes the reasons why some houses are able to survive. It is a model from which all landscapes should be designed.

Firescaping’s Zone Theory differs from the standard model by addressing the elements that create a beautiful and functional landscape as well as a fire-protected property. Planting for a sense of privacy or holding a hill can unintentionally create a lot of fuel. A good landscape design will not only help defend a home against the threat of fire, but will serve the unique goals of the individuals who care for it as well.

The Zone Theory is perfectly suited for large properties. People who manage small lots, properties on steep slopes, and houses nestled under a grove of trees may find the model cumbersome. Chapter 10 covers slopes; Chapter 11 covers small properties; and Chapter 12 covers ridgetop and understory properties.


Distance: Extends 30 feet from all sides of a house or structure.

Primary goal: The garden zone/defensible space is the most important zone in this model. Without igniting, this zone must be able to withstand firebrands and intense heat, between 900°F and 1,300°F. Everybody and anybody should be able to move unencumbered and swiftly through the garden zone. Firefighters will battle a blaze within these first 30 feet.

Secondary goals: The garden zone has to maintain high recreational, functional, and/or economic value to remain useful to its occupants. The ideals of beauty and privacy play a large role in determining plant selection. Fences, hedges, sheds, compost areas, and stored items, such as firewood, are common in this zone and add a lot of fuel.


PLANT SELECTION Plants in the garden zone must wilt and sizzle, but not ignite, when exposed to flames and heat. This means that plants in this zone will likely be broad-leaved, supple, and moist. This group is considered fire retardant. Chapter 13 (“Plant Selection and Fire Protection”) has Zone 1 plant lists for lawn alternatives, festive perennials, and accent trees.

CARE AND MAINTENANCE The garden zone will consume a disproportionate amount of a landscape’s budget. And rightly so—lives are at stake within this zone. The garden zone also consumes the most water, resources, and time. The most fire-retardant plants will require irrigation and attention, more so in arid environments. Food crops, lush understory plantings, and tropical plantings are some examples of high-maintenance plants that survive firebrands and intense heat.

ACCESS AND ESCAPE The garden zone is where firefighters will fight a fire, so wide, stable pathways must surround the entire structure. There should be a place to stage equipment and people, and clear sight lines to escape routes and the surrounding landscape. Everyone should be able to move through this zone with ease, never worrying about ducking, tripping, or getting entangled. On large lots, it is essential to have and maintain two ways off the property. Refer to Chapter 14 (“Landscape Features”) for more on paths.

GARDEN FEATURES The garden zone may contain a lot of ignitable features: fences, furniture, play structures, shade structures, and storage sheds are common. Naturally, using noncombustible materials, such as metal, is the surest strategy. But there are other strategies too. Refer to Chapter 14 (“Landscape Features”) for more detail.

SOURCES OF IGNITION Many places in the garden zone are likely to produce sparks and flames. Barbecues, fire pits, and work areas need to be designed to handle the occasional spark: flammable vegetation must be cleared around them; Zone 1 plants used; and dead, dying, and diseased vegetation constantly removed.

MAINTENANCE Maintenance is the fulcrum of fire protection. Fire must not be allowed in the garden zone, and the role of maintenance cannot be stressed enough. Refer to the maintenance chapters (Chapters 16–18) for priorities, techniques, and timing of maintenance tasks.


RVs and trailers can be a huge liability during a wildfire: once they ignite, they are incredibly difficult to extinguish. They catch firebrands with canvas contraptions, leafy debris underneath, and openings in paneling and compartments, and they propel a fire with rubber, thin paneling, and stored fuel.

RVs and trailers can be protected:

  • Remove awnings and other firebrand-catching appendages.
  • Blow or sweep debris from underneath the vehicle.
  • Remove flammable vegetation at least 10 feet around the vehicle.
  • Install curtains that can deflect heat on all windows.


Distance: 31–70 feet from a protected structure. Houses on slopes need to add 10 feet to this zone for every 10% increase in slope. For example, the greenbelt would extend to 120 feet on a property that has a 50% slope.

Primary goal: The greenbelt should stop a ground fire. Select low-growing, hearty, and water-thrifty plants. These plants are the most fire resistant. The effects of droughts, freezes, and occupant neglect should have the least impact in this zone.

Secondary goals: Within view of a house, privacy, aesthetics, and wind protection play important roles in plant selection and placement. These goals add a lot of fuel to this zone over time. On sloping properties, controlling erosion is one of the most important roles of this zone....

Table of Contents




  • Identifying Fire Hazard Areas
  • The Law and the Reality
  • Protecting Yourself from Yourself
  • What to Do During a Fire

  • Prioritizing Your Time
  • Roads
  • Structures
  • Driveways
  • The Zone Theory
  • Slopes
  • Small Properties
  • Ridgetop and Understory Properties
  • Plant Selection and Fire Protection
  • Landscape Features
  • Emergency Water Systems

  • Maintenance Priorities
  • Maintenance for Zones 1 and 2
  • Managing Wild Vegetation and Weeds

  • First Aid for Fire-Scarred Landscapes
  • Holding Your Hill: Long-Term Strategies

  • Community Obligations
  • Managing a Community’s Three Landscapes

  • Glossary
  • References and Selected Reading
  • Index
  • Plant Index
  • About the Author

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