Fire Prevention Around Your Home

December 4, 2015

Fire Prevention Around Your Home

Last Monday’s snow reduced the likelihood of fire for a while, but it didn’t last too long. While I don’t think many of us miss the snow, you do need to consider that this increases a risk that is easy to overlook. When dry plants and plant material are not covered by snow or moistened by rain, you need to be aware of potential fire hazards around your home.

These risks include dry tops of ornamental grasses left over winter, dead trees killed by pine wilt, dry tree leaves that accumulate along the foundation or under bushes and more. These could create fuel for a carelessly discarded cigarette or other ignition source.

Ornamental grasses, especially native grasses, are great landscape plants. They hold soil, help conserve water, provide shelter and food for wildlife, and tolerate weather extremes. Continue to use ornamental grasses in the landscape, but be aware the dried tops burn easily.

I usually recommend leaving the tops of ornamental grasses over winter and waiting to cut them back in early spring. While the tops are dead, the foliage and flowering plumes add color and motion to the otherwise bleak winter landscape.

But keep in mind that the dry tops of ornamental grasses can be highly flammable and a fire hazard when dry... especially in dry periods like we frequently experience over winter. If an ornamental grass is in a location where it is a potential fire hazard, consider removing the foliage now to reduce the risk. Around our home, I cut back the tops of ornamental grasses planted near the foundation while leaving those that are 20 feet or more from the house or garage.

Pine trees that have died from pine wilt contain extremely dry plant material that is combustible. While you may not have to worry about lightning strikes at this time of year, it is wise to keep this potential fire risk in mind... plus your home looks a lot better with these dead trees removed.

When a pine trees dies from the pine wilt disease after October 1, it is recommended the tree be cut down and burned, buried or chipped by April 1. This is to stop the pine sawyer beetle from emerging, which normally starts in May, and carrying the disease-causing nematodes to other pine trees. However, if a dead pine is located near a house or garage, consider removing the tree as soon as possible to reduce the fire risk.

If you are going to burn to discard the disease-infested wood, keep in mind the dry conditions you may experience and take precautions to reduce the risk of a fire getting out of control. If you need to burn, it is best to do so when there are a couple inches of snow on the ground. Also remember, you need to get a burn permit from your local fire department before burning. Consider chipping the wood to use as mulch or burying it as alternatives to burning.

Just as ornamental grasses should continue to be used in landscapes, evergreens are still a good choice, too. Do not plant Scotch pine trees as these are highly susceptible to pine wilt. Fir, spruce, or other species of pines are good alternatives where an evergreen is needed in the landscape.

Finally, do not allow leaves to blow in and accumulate around your home. A little rain or snow should slow down this problem. But when the snow melts, rake up and dispose of or compost leaves that have blown in. This may seem like a never-ending project. I’ve done this several times around our house, but I noticed recent winds blew in more dead leaves. So I guess I know what one of the projects on my “to do” list will be!

For more information on fire prevention around the home, contact your local Nebraska Extension office.