Wildfires are becoming more and more common here in Colorado, and therefore it is the responsibility of every property owner to know how to protect their home or property from wildfire.
With all the ongoing and past fire mitigation work, we have seen what works – and what doesn’t work – when it comes to fire mitigation practices. We’ve helped to repair some of the worst jobs, finished up some projects for folks, and done some planting work to help landscapes look a little less bleak.
In this article, we will cover some fire prevention practices that do not work and will introduce some options that are better for your property and for our local ecosystem overall.
What not to do to protect your home and properties from wildfires
Not all fire protection methods work well over the long term. We’re currently dealing with the consequences of fire suppression. For generations, our strategy was putting out the fires; we’re realizing that left behind a crowded, dried-out forest. Below, we’ll describe some current practices that can prove harmful when it comes to protecting your property.
Do Not Remove All Trees
We’ve seen so many large tract owners logging most of their property, and even those who own smaller parcels of land are following suit. Good forestry practices can have logging as part of the solution, but much like so many other issues we face, there is no single solution.
Removing all of the trees is never the answer; trees are in this ecosystem for a reason. Removing healthy trees can lead to soil erosion, flooding, and other issues. It also negatively impacts our local wildlife, removes a vital source of oxygen, and negatively impacts the world at large, not to mention our local community.
It’s important to remember that before we came and built our homes here, the fire was part of the system. Our fear of fire and the resulting 100-plus years of fire suppression is much to blame for the situation we have now.
Removing all the trees also doesn’t solve the problem. When large trees are removed, other plants, shrubs, and grasses are quick to take their place. Oftentimes, these opportunistic plants are not native but invasive. They can quickly take over an area and prevent any native plant life from growing.
In many cases, the grasses or invasive plants that take over a property where trees have been removed prove to act as fuel for the fire. So many of the ornamental plants we have put in our landscapes are not from an area like our backyards, where the fire was such a regularly occurring event. Because of this, they grow more, and in ways that can lend to more fuels being left behind after each year’s growth.
Overall, removing healthy, native trees can be more damaging to a property than helpful. Our large, mature trees should be thinned and separated from each other. They also should have some undergrowth in areas, like the shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers you might find where fire has more recently been.
Do Not Neglect Watering Your Trees
Drought has been a major cause of wildfires in recent years. While watering trees on your property may not stop wildfires from starting in other places, every little bit helps. If your trees are healthy rather than suffering from drought stress, they are more likely to survive other issues.
This is why properly watering your trees, even during the winter months, is important. It is especially important for any newly-planted trees. Trees that have been planted in the last 2 to 3 years do not have fully developed root systems and therefore rely on additional watering to help them become established.
If you have questions about how or when to water your trees or want to take advantage of our winter watering program, contact LAM Tree Service today.
If you’re wondering how much water trees need, check out this article on tree watering.
Do Not Ignore the Impact of Beetle Kill
Drought-stressed and crowded trees are particularly susceptible to destruction by beetles, leading to large areas of dead, dried-out trees. Trees under stress due to lack of water (from drought or crowding) are more likely to succumb to beetle infestations, and beetle infestations kill and dry out hundreds, sometimes thousands of trees.
Beetle infestations have grown significantly in our area, and every year, we spot more and more trees that have been impacted by beetles. Foresters and entomologists who spend their careers monitoring our forests are starting to refer to the beetle as the “six-legged fire” because the insects are now managing the tree population. The problem is dead trees lead to more fuel.
All pests have a “life cycle” when they develop over a period of time and damage the host plant. Most of these beetles have a one-year life cycle and can be dealt with or prevented from doing more damage for a certain period of the season.
What you Can Do To Reduce Wildfire Risks
Here are some steps we recommend that you take to reduce wildfire risks on your Colorado foothills property.
Prevent and Spot Beetle Infestations
Now that you know how the cycle of beetle infestations can create more fuel for wildfires, you understand the importance of preventing beetle kill whenever possible.
Mountain Pine Beetles
Mountain pine beetle is the pest that kills the most trees in Colorado, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the signs of this pest.
LAM Tree Service offers preventive insecticide sprays that can protect trees from mountain pine beetles that are yet to be infested. This treatment is usually applied between mid-May and late July, depending on the weather and growing conditions that year.
Pine beetle identification is easiest in winter. Check for pitch tubes, and if you spot them, cut a piece of bark off and see if the wood looks like a bluish-gray tint. If you spot this tint, it’s a sign that the tree will need to be removed.
Ips beetles are also an issue, and 11 different species are native to Colorado. All types are capable of killing pine and spruce trees.
Insecticide treatments for Ips beetles that have not yet been attacked are available. LAM Tree Service sprays these insecticides starting in late February or early March, depending on the weather and conditions.
Remove Infected Trees
Once a tree is infected, there is no treatment to save your trees. In most cases, we recommend that infested trees be removed and the logs treated to kill off any beetles that are still present.
When possible, the infected trees should be removed before the adult insects emerge. In any case, the trees should be removed as soon as possible before they become more of a fire hazard.
Have Your Trees Properly Pruned
Suppressing wildfires also suppresses what wildfires naturally do – remove the weak lower branches of trees.
This means that it’s up to the property owners to mechanically replicate what a fire would do by (properly) pruning away the small and lower branches.
Mitigate Fire Dangers on Your Property
Fire mitigation is one of the most important ways to protect your property from the risk of damage from a wildfire. Here in the Colorado foothills, most insurance companies require fire mitigation for homeowners or commercial building insurance.
Fire mitigation refers first to creating a defensible space around your home or building by modifying or removing the surrounding vegetation. This is most important because it provides access to the structure in the event of any fire.
In order to reduce the intensity of a wildfire and slow how quickly and easily it spreads, the second step is thinning areas a bit further from the home. Depending on how large your property is, this can be done in phases.
At LAM Tree Service, we focus on three threats to your property: ground fuels, ladder fuels, and top fuels. We can help you remove or alter dangerous fuels and instead choose landscape trees and plants that are less flammable, properly spaced, and healthy.
Take Preventive Measures
80% of wildfires are started (often unintentionally) by humans. Reducing the chances of starting a fire and knowing which steps to take can help prevent disastrous outcomes.
- Don’t park your vehicle over grassy areas, especially if the grass has dried out.
- Keep a shovel, bucket, and fire extinguisher in your vehicle in case you start (or spot) a small fire.
- Don’t operate equipment that produces sparks near dry vegetation.
- Fireworks are known for starting fires (over 19,000 known!) Consider alternatives such as glow sticks for celebrations.
- Don’t burn debris on high-wind days, and make sure you have water nearby when burning.
- Properly extinguish any campfires, fire pits, burn piles, etc.
- Create an evacuation plant and have a bag packed and ready for the next time a wildfire nears your home.
The Colorado State Forest Service has a convenient checklist with steps to prepare your home for wildfires.
You can also learn more from the Colorado State Forest Service on fire mitigation in general.
Continue Learning About and Implementing Wildfire Protection
While fire mitigation efforts can never guarantee a building or property will survive a wildfire, it does give a better chance. At the very least, your efforts now can help firefighters in the future. If a location is completely unsafe and unable to be protected, wildlife firefighters will not even enter the area.
Knowing and understanding fire mitigation is the first step in keeping your Colorado property safe, and this article (and all the links included in it) should help you in becoming well-informed about what you need to do.
Fire mitigation is an ongoing process, especially in areas where wildfire “season” is now an all-year reality.
At LAM Tree Service, we can help implement ways to turn your property into a firewise one, and we can help maintain your trees and fire mitigation practices.
Contact us for more information!