improve safety by dressing your home in a 5 foot ember resistant “skirt”
September 2023. By Oscar Ortega: Our teams spent the summer improving the safety of Zone 0s for dozens of grantees supported by the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains. We learned a lot! While it is absolutely possible to create beautiful Zone 0s that enhance curb appeal and day-to-day living, it is also possible to take some relatively quick and easy steps to get safer.
If you simply want to get safer fast, here are five relatively easy steps that will get you there.
Step 1: Identify Your Zone 0
Zone 0 is the five feet closest to your home, including any physical structures like decks or stairways. Let’s walk the perimeter around your home and mark this space. This action alone will increase awareness.
Pro Tip: Measure five feet out from the wood structures like decks. For example, here Andres and Elmer have bumped out the Zone 0 to accommodate wood stairs at the entrance to the home.
Step 2: Think Home First
Every fire defense strategy starts with the home. We definitely recommend thoroughly addressing the home‘s vulnerabilities. For now, let’s document where we are. We’ll take pictures and make notes of what touches the home, particularly at ground level. We’ll ask: How easy would these items be to move? Could you (or your home-alone aged kids) do it alone? How quickly?
Pro Tip: Keep these notes and photos to show fire and insurance agencies. It will be useful to have proof of your progress when enforcement begins in January 2024. It may also earn an insurance discount.
Step 3: Relocate Critical Dangers
Now that we understand what is in your Zone 0, let’s make it safer. We’ll start by addressing items that are not planted or firmly attached to the home. First, we’ll remove explosively flammable items (e.g. paint cans, gasoline and propane containers, and chemical fertilizers). Next, we’ll want to relocate items that easily ignite (e.g. garbage containers, wood piles, wooden containers, outdoor furnishings made of wood or petroleum products, as well as tools and toys). If you have yet to remove dead foliage, now is the time to do that too.
Pro Tip: Store these items in a garage or as far from the home and neighboring structures as possible. Take a beat to note the effort involved in clearing creature comforts. Would you want to do this under pressure?
Step 4: Clear Exposed Ground
You and your home are already substantially safer. Our next step will be to clear ground level materials away from the home. This typically involves raking away mulch and leaf litter. There may be more substantial efforts needed, such as removing turf grass. It is not necessary to address well-hydrated foliage at this time.
Pro Tip: With the area around your home much more accessible and visible, now would be a great time to get a Home Ignition Zone assessment. Taking note of where leaf litter collects – this will be where embers are most likely to collect as well.
Step 5: This Is the Fun Part!
Now is a great time to assess what you want to keep and create. If we were there, we would ask a few questions.
- Are there any “permanent” structures that need to be addressed? These might include wood gates that attach to the home, railroad tie stairs, storage structures, the exposed underside of a deck, or synthetic turf.
- Which foliage can stay? Well hydrated, non-woody foliage and the trunks of well established trees are allowed in Zone 0. The benefits of their presence may outweigh any risks posed.
- What hardscape materials will complement the architecture of your home and lifestyle? Exposed dirt will eventually become receptive to weeds. Adding hardscape will help protect all the work you did to clear this space. Decomposed granite and gravel are inexpensive options.
Pro Tip: Tackle the questions above in order. With a few exceptions, man-made materials attached to your home pose greater dangers than most foliage. Once this is accomplished, things get even more fun! From here, we can look out to the broader landscape to plant beautiful protection.
We hope these steps tamp down fear and fuel hope. A compliant Zone 0s may not be as far away as you think!