Protect Defensible Space

Focus on Foliage Can Lead to Overlooking More Flammable Dangers

August 2022. By Oscar Ortega: LA’s fire season may now be 365 days a year, but the high, dry heat of late summer and early fall still pose enhanced dangers. While there is a tendency to focus on foliage as the primary danger, well hydrated, healthy foliage can be fire defensive. Humans tend to introduce – and overlook – a multitude of more flammable items, even in the critical 5-10 feet closest to our homes we keep foliage-free.

While we once recommended storing these items when alerted to nearby fire, we now see it is essential we get in the habit of storing the following outdoor features when not in active use. We store:


Petroleum Products

Gasoline and propane are obviously flammable. Sometimes we forget the danger they pose when they are within a jet-ski, boat, mower, or blower. It is important any container for these highly flammable materials be stored when not in active use.

Many unexpected objects can be petroleum based. Many outdoor rugs and synthetic turf grasses contain petroleum products and can burn. While some may be treated, others can be singed by the reflection from windows. If you can roll-up and store these items, we recommend it.



While chemical fertilizer may look like sand, it explodes when it burns. We don’t use it. If you do, be sure it is stored in a secure place when not in use – or just opt for organic options. Like fertilizer and petrol-chemicals, paint thinners are not only flammable but combustible. Store them in a temperature controlled and sealed environment.



Garden Art, including plant containers, made of wood or other flammable products should be placed outside of the 5-10 feet closest to the home. Art made of metal or glass can be fire defensive if it is placed to defend a home vulnerabilities. It could also be a problem if, like this piece, it creates the opportunity for embers to collect against flammable features.



Some of the most dangerous objects in our gardens are those we use to create “outdoor rooms,” particularly as they are often close to our homes. Cushions, curtains, umbrellas and sails, as well as rugs of any material can be very receptive to fire. If they are very close to your home, consider brining them in when they are not in use. If they are a little farther afield, it is wise to have proximate storage at a good distance from any structure.


What are your furniture frames made of? Metal will get hot, but it will not ignite. Wood and rattan furnishings should be kept at a 5-10 foot distance from the home. Ideally, these items should also sit on concrete, decomposed granite or gravel in case they do ignite.



Our minds tend to focus on the metal “business end” of tools, but the wood handles of rakes, shovels, and pruning equipment can also ignite under the right circumstances. Obviously, the business end of brooms is often easy to ignite as well. They are particularly dangerous if left leaning against a wood fence or wood siding.


Toys and Games

It is hard to see items we associate with frivolity as dangerous. It’s all fun and games until the dolls, trucks, and rackets ignite. For the sake of LA, listen to your mom (or mine) and put the toys away!
As LA looks to save water, we’ll keep examining the ways we can all fight fire without it! We hope this tips help you enjoy your blooming landscape even more.

More Information

Catch Fire with Trees
Fight Fire without Water