Wildfires burn millions of acres of land in the U.S. each year. If you live in a wildfire-prone area especially, limiting fuels and fire dangers surrounding your home can improve the odds of surviving one. The good news: it’s all pretty easy to do!

Protect against falling embers

Research shows that falling embers and small flames are typically what cause most homes to catch fire during a wildfire. Strong winds can send embers flying as far as a mile away, causing nearby homes and other objects to ignite. But luckily, you can keep those embers at bay through thoughtful management of your Home Ignition Zone. What’s a Home Ignition Zone, you ask?

Know your Home Ignition Zones 

Developed in the nineties by a USDA fire scientist, the Home Ignition Zone (HIZ) is meant to help people understand the way their homes ignite from a wildfire. The HIZ is divided into three categories: immediate, intermediate, and extended zones.

Each zone represents a certain distance from your home’s structure. Each has its own unique risks and ways you can reduce them. 

Immediate zone 

This zone is the most vulnerable to falling embers. It includes your home’s structure and a close distance of 0 to 5 feet of space around its perimeter. 

How to reduce fire risks in the immediate zone:

  • Keep the roof and gutters clear of dead leaves, pine cones, and pine needles. Use gutter screens, guards, or covers to keep debris from collecting in the first place.
  • Maintain your roof, replacing and repairing missing or loose shingles.
  • Cover attic vents and the ventilation openings in your eaves with 1/8 inch mesh screen.
  • Fix any broken windows or damaged screens. Double-pane windows are also better at tolerating high temperatures.
  • Remove flammable materials around the exterior of your home. That includes stacks of firewood, fertilizer, propane tanks, mulch and/or flammable vegetation.
  • Trim large, overhanging tree branches near the home.
  • Use non-combustible mulching options (i.e. crushed stone or gravel).
  • Use fire-rated roofing materials whenever possible like: asphalt or composite shingles or clay and slate tiles.

Intermediate zone 

This zone includes the next 5 to 30 feet out from your home’s structure. Usually this is your landscape and hardscaped areas like driveways, paths, and decks. 

How to reduce fire risks in the intermediate zone:

  • Remove any plant life from growing around or near propane tanks or barbecues.
  • Remove flammable plants, especially those that contain resins, oils or waxes (like juniper and pine)
  • Regularly trim and mow lawns and grassy areas (a height of 4-inches or less is recommended).
  • Keep mature tree canopies pruned and no closer than ten feet from your home structure.
  • Keep areas under trees clear of vegetation to keep fires from reaching the crowns.
  • Space trees and shrubs in small clusters, avoiding continuous vegetation from extending across the property.

Extended zone

This zone encompasses the next 30 to 100 feet from the outside of your home. It’s where you want to curb an advancing fire’s reach and height.  

How to reduce fire risks in the extended zone:

  • Water all landscaping regularly. 
  • Keep yard clear of debris like leaves, twigs, pinecones and any other ground litter.
  • Prune dead branches and remove dead trees and any other dead organic material.
  • Remove smaller trees that are growing between mature trees.
  • Eliminate any vegetation growing near or around sheds, garages or any other buildings.

You can learn more about wildfire risk and homeowners insurance and how to prepare for wildfire season. And while you’re at it, get a homeowners quote with Esurance and find out how we’re making insurance surprisingly painless. Because if something does happen despite your best efforts? We’ll help you land right back on your feet. 

Safe and smart | Home safety


about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.