Landscape do’s and don’ts

Create a noncombustible area around home

HARD SURFACE Gravel mulch is ideal when creating a noncombustible area around the home.

By Dwight Good

Editor’s note: This is the sixth installment in a series of articles on wildfire preparation.

No matter where you live, the most common reason homes burn during a wildfire is because embers land on something easily ignitable around the home. 

Make changes now to reduce the ember threat to your home. Remove leaves and pine needles from your rain gutters, clean out debris from under your deck, and remove flammable plants from around the base of your house. You can learn more at

Tip #6: A noncombustible must

During a wildfire, thousands of windblown embers may pelt your house like hail during a storm. Many of the embers that strike the side of the house can fall to the ground and accumulate next to your home. If your neighborhood is asked to evacuate as wildfire approaches, the embers can lie there, glowing unattended for hours or even days. If the embers are in contact with a house sided with wood or other combustible materials, or something that can ignite in the flowerbed, your home could be in jeopardy.

The vegetation, landscape materials and other items located immediately adjacent to your home have critical influence on house survival during wildfire and ember attack. Homeowners living in high fire hazard areas need to create a “noncombustible (or low-combustible) area” within three to five feet of their houses. Some of the important do’s and dont’s include:

• Do use hard surfaces such as concrete, brick and rock

• Do use green, healthy well-maintained lawn

• Do use gravel or rock mulches

• Do use irrigated herbaceous plants such as annual and perennial flowers and groundcovers

• Do use short deciduous shrubs (but don’t locate them in front of foundation vents)

• Don’t locate the firewood pile, or other combustible materials such as lumber in this area

• Don’t use wood, bark or rubber mulches

• Don’t have uncovered garbage cans or recycling bins here

• Don’t have dried grass and weeds, fallen pine needles and leaves or dead branches located in this area

• Don’t use ornamental evergreen plants, such as shrub junipers

Having a noncombustible (or low-combustible) area next to your home is an important part of protecting it from wildfire. Don’t wait—take action now before the embers arrive. 

Fire Marshal Dwight Good, MS, EFO, serves the Morgan Hill Fire Department, South Santa Clara County Fire Protection District and CAL FIRE Santa Clara Unit. He has 24 years of fire service experience. For questions or comments, email [email protected] or call (408) 310-4654.