The Arborist: Protect Your Home Against Wildfires | Home and outdoor

I recently attended a two-day workshop to obtain a new credential offered by the International Society of Arboriculture called Wildfire Risk Reduction Qualification. This workshop serves to train certified arborists to advise property owners on how they can mitigate the risk to their property, primarily structures, from wildfires.

Eric Hoyer

The arborist

This is especially timely as we read of the loss of more than 1,100 homes in the Florida Panhandle to multiple wildfires.

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You may not think this risk exists in Citrus County. However, many of us live in places like Pine Ridge, Citrus Hills, Citrus Springs, and other communities where forested areas are part of or adjacent to our properties.

Residential properties within or near natural areas are known as Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). WUI acreage is becoming more prevalent as more people move out of cities or suburbs and away from urban areas into heavily forested areas. Hence the reason for the loss of so many homes in California and other states with increasing wildfires.

Wildfire Risk Reduction (WRR) does not guarantee that your home will not be lost to a wildfire. However, following some or all of the recommendations that may be appropriate for your property should reduce the risk of catastrophic loss and minimize damage.

WRR is a systematic inspection of a property to identify areas and practices that can reduce the risk of wildfire damage.

Most people assume that homes are lost in a wildfire due to direct contact with the flames as they break through the treetops. I assumed the same. However, during the workshop I learned that the biggest threat comes from smoldering embers being carried downwind from a fire.

These embers can land on any flammable object on or near the house. These embers are not always immediately noticeable and may smolder for some time, preheating flammable materials, such as gutter debris, which in turn spread to the roof, eaves, or other areas of the home .

Another way a house can burn is through radiant heat. A hot fire can produce heat which can radiate a considerable distance from the fire itself and preheat objects on or near the structure.


WRR divides the area around a structure (usually a house) into three zones – 0-5 feet, 5-30 feet, and 30-100 feet.

The first five feet, known as the immediate zone, are the most critical. The arborist will look for anything flammable that is very close to or touches any part of the house. These include landscaping with oily or waxy leaves, flammable mulch such as pine straw, wooden structures or objects touching the house such as a fence, deck or trellis, flammable coating such as vinyl , a cedar roof, wood or vinyl shutters, or leaves, pine straw and other debris in the gutters or on the roof.

Ladder fuels are anything that can carry a fire from the ground up into the trees or eaves of a house. Palm trees are a good example of ladder fuels. The fire goes up the trunk of the palm tree, ignites the dead leaves which can then produce embers which are spread by the wind towards the house.

Vines can also be used as scale fuels. Therefore, eliminating these fuels can reduce the risk of wildfires.

The remaining two areas farther from home may pose similar risks. Piles of dead/dry leaves or brush, piled firewood, wooden fences, vines in trees, dead branches stretching towards the house, paths filled with mulch, and even objects such as Propane tanks, lawn mowers and gas cans can present problems if a wildfire is nearby.

This is not an exhaustive list nor an attempt to scare anyone off. We all have some of the above items or concerns in our backyard. WRR is simply a systematic method of making owners or other owners more aware of some of the risks that may be present on their property and advising on ways to mitigate or minimize those risks.

Some practices can be as simple as raking flammable mulch away from the house, pruning the height of shrubs, replacing mulch with rocks or gravel, or cleaning gutters and the roof. Other practices may be impractical or costly, but would be brought to the homeowner’s attention for possible future mitigation.

As we are now at the start of wildfire season in Florida, it is wise to be aware of our immediate surroundings and how best to protect ourselves and our property from wildfire hazards. A quick check of the Florida Forest Service website on March 7 showed a total of 144 wildfires currently in progress or recently extinguished.

Six of them were noted in Citrus County. Fortunately, these six fires were small and easily contained, but one totaled 121 acres.

Our natural areas are drying up and forest fires are becoming more frequent. thus, diligence on the part of each owner is recommended.

Eric Hoyer is a Certified Arborist, Certified Forester, Registered Consulting Arborist and Qualified Tree Risk Assessor with Natural Resource Planning Services Inc. He can be contacted at [email protected]