Being told what you should and shouldn’t do on your own property is a pain. We get it. One of the more puzzling things for a lot of people who live in places like Butte County, where defensible space is required to discourage the spread of wildfire, is being told to maintain an empty, 5-foot, ember-resistant, non-combustible zone around your home.
We hope the following conversation, a transcription of a fire safety seminar that never happened, in which a fictional fire safety instructor addressed a fictional group of local homeowners, will be of help.
Instructor: Zone Zero of your defensible space plans should be a five-foot perimeter, all around your house, that contains nothing that can burn should a flying ember land there.
Homeowners: (Nods and murmurs of understanding)
Instructor: Any questions?
Homeowner: What CAN I put in that zone?
Instructor: Nothing. Just some gravel or a layer of some other type of rock; that way, if burning embers fall near your house, they can just exhaust themselves on the rock without raising flames close to your home.
Homeowner: What exactly do you mean by “nothing?” What about low-lying plants?
Instructor: Plants burn and those five feet can be right under your eaves where embers can float up and ignite.
Homeowner: Plastic trash containers?
Instructor: No. They can burn, too.
Homeowner: Metal trash containers?
Instructor: Still no; they contain trash that can burn.
Instructor: Heck, no. It has “fire” in the name.
Homeowner: Lawn furniture?
Instructor: Not if it has parts that can burn.
Homeowner: Gas cans?
Homeowner: What about metal garden tools?
Instructor: Wooden handles?
Homeowner: No. They’re all metal.
Instructor: And you just want to leave them sitting out loose?
Homeowner: No. I keep ‘em in a box.
Instructor: Burnable box?
Homeowner: *sigh* Yep. What about a metal box?
Instructor: Just don’t leave it where you can trip over it.
Homeowner: Can we do something decorative in that space?
Instructor: Like what?
Homeowner: Nice pavers?
Homeowner: Rock garden?
Instructor: Of course!
Homeowner: Concrete animals?
Instructor: A whole menagerie.
Homeowner: Ceramic garden gnomes?
Instructor: All you want.
Homeowner: I hate ceramic garden gnomes.
Instructor: Well, if there’s some kind of non-burning sculpture you DO like, you can put it in your five-foot zone. But honestly, a lot of people are very happy with picking out some nice-looking hardscape and just using that.
That five-foot perimeter we keep telling you about doesn’t have to look like a barren wasteland. We promise.
Start by clearing those five feet completely, and then let your imagination take over. Get some sample pebbles, rocks, or even small boulders to experiment with; think about how they might look on a bed of gravel or lake stone, for instance. Perhaps you can shop around for metal, ceramic, clay, or concrete decorative pieces, and create a little strolling area beside your house.
Just resist the temptation to put even a little something flammable within five feet of your house…no matter how cute or fun it looks.