Slopes Require Wider Defensible Space

Give your property the space it needs to keep you safe

If you live on a sloping property, you already know how much work goes into maintaining it. But did you know living on a slope also raises your level of risk during a wildfire?

Heat rises. That means fire, a.k.a. concentrated heat, will rise up a slope faster than it will travel across a flat, horizontal landscape. The steeper the slope, the faster the fire, the stronger its heat and intensity.

In order to account for slopes and the higher risk they pose, you need to put extra thought into two things when planning your defensible space: 1) planting distances, 2) space maintenance. 

Measure carefully when planting.

In addition to the detailed information on our Defensible Space page, we’ve written before on the blog about putting distances between and among plantings on your property. 

If your property doesn’t sit on a flat lot, you should still follow the defensible space guidelines, but you’ll need to adjust your planting measurements to account for the reach of flames and heat. 

Whether your property is a continuous slope or rugged terrain consisting of a series of slopes, it’s just a matter of leaving more space. Here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind:

TERRAINSHRUBSTREES
Flat land or mild slopes (Less than 20%)Leave 2x the width of the shrub between plantingsLeave 10 feet between trees (branch to branch)
Moderate to mild slopes (20% to 40%)Leave 4x the width of the shrub between plantingsLeave 20 feet between trees (branch to branch)
Moderate to steep slopes (GREATER THAN 40%)Leave 6x the width of the shrub between plantingsLeave 30 feet between trees (branch to branch)

Set a regular maintenance schedule.

Once you have your plantings in place, you’ll want to set up a regular schedule for keeping your defensible space clear. Nature is always on the move, filling in available gaps, and sloping properties—with all their beauty and character—provide a lot of opportunity for it to do so.

If you can afford the time and funds a landscaping company would need to accomplish all the detail work on a contract basis, that’s great! But you can also easily handle it yourself by sticking to a regular schedule of maintenance. Consider making it a family project—it can be a great way to reinforce the concept of fire safety with children!

Consider an outside-the-box solution.

If you do want to hire a crew, goats are the G.O.A.T for efficiency and economy in this line of work.

Oh, yes. Real goats. There are companies that will bring goats to your property and let them do what they do best: eat everything in sight, including unpleasant items such as poison oak and poison ivy. Apparently, goats love the stuff! Plus, goats don’t make noise or burn fuel like landscaping equipment does. Check out available grazing resources here.

Of course, you need to establish your defensible space before you can maintain it. So don’t hire your goat team just yet—begin by adjusting your measurements to match the level of slope on your property. And if you have any questions, you can always call the CAL FIRE Butte County Fire Prevention Office (530) 538-7888.