By Billie and Robert Nicholson

Lake Lure residents dodged a big wildfire bullet last November. One of our Chimney Rock friends shared his experience with the forest fire evacuation notice. “When I received the telephone-warning message, I left work and headed home right away. By the time I got to the county line, the road was already closed and I had to walk in to get to our house. I ran frantically through the house grabbing things I thought we might need for a few days evacuation. We had another old car at home, so I threw our stuff into it and, thank goodness, it cranked.”

Due to the extended drought, fallen leaves were dry and ready to burn. Fortunately, the firefighters were able to contain the fire and keep it from destroying homes, unlike the properties in Gatlinburg. Are there ways to make your property more fire resistant?

One way to help protect your home is to create a defensible space around it. What does this mean? It’s a buffer you create between buildings on your property and the trees, grass, shrubs or any wild-land that surrounds it. This space will slow or stop the spread of wildfire and protect your home from catching fire. Defensible space will also provide protection for firefighters defending your property. To create a 100 foot space, divide it into two zones.

Zone one is 30 feet around your house or any other structure associated with it. In this area work on a major clean up removing all dead plants, grass and weeds from your lawn. Remove dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof and rain gutters. Trim trees regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees and from your house. Remove any dead branches that hang over your roof. Move any wood piles out of this perimeter. Remove any vegetation that could ignite and spread to decks or patio furniture.

Zone 2 includes the next 70 feet outside Zone 1 to make a total of a 100 feet perimeter. Cut or mow annual grass to a maximum of 4 inches. Create horizontal and vertical spacing between shrubs and trees. Remove all tree branches at least six feet from the ground. Lack of vertical space will allow fire to move from the ground to the brush and then to trees. Remove fallen leaves, needles, bark, cones and small branches that accumulate to a depth greater than 3 inches. When you landscape, consider planting fire-resistant plants and place them strategically to resist the spread of fire to your home. Have multiple garden hoses that are long enough to reach around property.

Flying embers from wildfires can destroy homes up to a mile away. Here are some things you can do to harden your home to make it more fire resistant.

  • Roof – the most vulnerable part of your home. Wood or shingle roofs are very flammable. Use composition, metal or tile. Block any spaces between decking and covering to prevent embers from catching fire.
  • Vents – create openings for flying embers. Cover them with 1/8” to 1/4” metal mesh. Don’t use fiberglass or plastic because they can melt and burn.
  • Eaves and Soffits – should be protected with non-combustible materials.
  • Windows – can break from wildfire heat before the house catches fire. This allows embers to get into and ignite fires inside. Install dual-paned windows with one pane of tempered glass to reduce the chance of breaking during a fire.
  • Walls – Wooden products on the outside of houses as siding materials are combustible and not recommended for fire-prone areas. Use ignition resistant building materials like stucco or other approved materials. Extend them from the foundation to the roof.
  • Decks – should be made of ignition resistant materials. Keep combustible materials removed from beneath your deck. Use the same materials for patio coverings also.
  • Rain Gutters – should be screened or have gutter guards installed to prevent gutters from accumulating plant debris. Keep them clean of dried leaves and pine needles.
  • Garage – Have a fire extinguisher and fire emergency tools available. Install weather stripping around and under door to block embers.

Lots of people in our neighborhood were thankful to the many firefighters whose dedication kept the fires away from homes and businesses. We saw lots of “Thank You” signs posted throughout town.

Billie and Robert welcome your questions and comments. They can be reached at

Photo Credits:

  1. Defensible Space –
  1. Thank you composite – Billie Nicholson

Position defensible space at top of article and composite at bottom.