How Landscaping Maintenance Will Protect You from Wildfire
Jill Stuefer

How Landscaping Maintenance Will Protect You from Wildfire

This is Part II of the Vacation Rental Safety Series. Every month, we’ll show you how to mitigate risk, loss and liability at your vacation rental home with valuable safety tips and ideas.

Wildfire season is heating up once again. According to the U.S. Forest Service, one billion acres of land are at risk for wildfires, with California officials predicting that 2019 will be even worse than 2018. But California is not the only place in the U.S. at risk.

As Newsweek reports, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Utah are all experiencing increased chances of wildfires this year. In fact, Anchorage, Alaska, now has “the worst air quality in the U.S.” due to its unrelenting season of wildfires.

In light of the unprecedented number of wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in recent years (resulting in dozens of deaths and billions of dollars in damage) it’s of extreme importance that vacation rental property owners do their part to protect their homes and surrounding communities. One key way to do this is by maintaining the landscaping and vegetation around their property.

Why is Landscaping Maintenance So Important for Preventing Wildfire?

As the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warns, “All vegetation is fuel for a wildfire.” However, some trees, shrubs and plants are more flammable and ignite more quickly than others. By keeping the landscaping around your property under control, especially the more flammable species of plants, you’ll reduce your risk of fire damage once the winds and wildfires pick up again in October and November.

Even if you plan to lock up your vacation rental for the winter, it is imperative that you maintain the vegetation around your property in the off-season in order to protect your home from wildfires. We’ve collected some of the best advice for maintaining your landscaping so you and your property can stay safe during wildfire season.  

Know Your Flammable Plants

Due to their oil content and other factors, some plants, trees and shrubs are more at risk for fire than others. According to The Spruce, listed below are some of the most flammable plants you can have near your home or around your property:

  • Acacia

  • Algerian Ivy

  • Bamboo

  • Broom flowers

  • Chamise (greasewood) shrubs

  • Cypress (Arizona, Italian, Leylandii, Tecate)

  • Douglas Fir

  • Eastern red cedar

  • Eucalyptus

  • Gas plants

  • Japanese honeysuckle

  • Juniper

  • Maiden Grass

  • Manzanita

  • Melaleuca

  • Palm

  • Pampas Grass

  • Pine

  • Rosemary

  • Thuja

  • Toyon

If you have any of these plants as part of your landscaping, either remove them or be diligent in pruning them and keeping them as far from your home as possible during wildfire season

Maintain a 30 ft. Vegetation-Free Zone

Experts recommend creating and maintaining a distance of at least 30 feet between vegetation and any structures associated with your vacation home. If your landscaping does catch on fire, this distance acts as a buffer, protecting your property from coming into contact with—and spreading—the flames. At the very least, keep tree limbs 10 feet above the ground and away from your roof and chimney.

Beware of Palm Trees

Beautiful palm trees against a sunset

Unfortunately, the majestic palm tree is especially hazardous during wildfire season. As beautiful as they are in your corner of paradise, palm trees are uniquely dangerous during wildfire season.

"Dried and dead palm fronds become like flaming arrows if they detach from their trunks and are carried by winds. Embers can become embedded into the fibrous tissue, leaf basses or along the trunk of a palm tree. The result: a palm that can rapidly become engulfed in flames, spreading to other plants and structures nearby.” –The Spruce

Keep palm trees pruned 30 feet or more from a home or other structure, and be sure to clear out any dead and fallen fronds from the base of the tree, your roof, patio and deck.

Get Rid of Vines

Vines, while lovely to look at, are perhaps the No. 1 offender of flammable plants. Due to their high resin content and overall invasiveness, they can spread flames like, well, wildfire. Even the woody species of vines can be problematic: if you use trellises or other wooden structures to support them, those, too, can catch fire.

Clear Out Leaf Litter and Dead Wood

Due to their lack of moisture, leaf litter and dead wood are major fire risks.

Leaf litter are dead leaves that collect underneath the plant. Because of their density, fungi can’t break it down, leaving it to sit and potentially catch fire should flames come in contact with it. Dry, dead wood is also highly flammable, as is shaggy, rough or peeling bark.

Remove any dead branches or fallen bark from the premises. Clear leaf litter (especially pine needles) and branches out of your gutters, your lawn, patios and decks, and remove them from beneath trees and shrubs. Prune dead or dying leaves and branches frequently to reduce the chances of flammability. Remove any dead annual plants as well.

Keep an Eye on Ornamental Grasses

Because of how low they are to the ground, ornamental grasses like Maiden Grass and Pampas Grass can be dangerous if they dry out prematurely, especially during spells of dry weather. Keep them well watered to avoid dryness and cut them back when in late winter and early spring to prevent dryness and flammability.

Ensure Correct Irrigation

If you’ve experienced drought and prolonged periods of dryness this summer, your landscaping could be at extreme risk for catching fire. However, moisture is wildfire’s greatest enemy. One way to stave off the flames is to maintain proper irrigation of your plants and other landscaping all season long.

The EPA’s Water Budget Tool can give you an idea of how much water you need to properly water your landscaping. We also recommend using its Water Efficiency Management Guide for other tips on maintaining proper irrigation of your landscaping and vegetation during dry months.

Is Your Vacation Rental Protected from the Unexpected?

It’s impossible to know when devastation will strike. Do you have the right insurance coverage for your vacation rental home? Find out if your current policy covers wildfire damage during a free consultation with one of our insurance experts. Request a consultation today!

Talk to a CBIZ vacation rental insurance expert today - request a consultation


This blog may contain scenarios that are provided as examples only. In an actual claim situation, coverage is subject to the terms, conditions and exclusions of the policy issued. The information provided is general in nature and may be affected by changes in law or the interpretation of such laws. The reader is advised to contact a professional prior to taking any action based upon this information.

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CBIZ Vacation Rental Insurance, a division of CBIZ Insurance Services,Inc., is the largest insurer of short-term vacation rental properties in the United States. As part of an $850 million New York Stock Exchange traded company (CBZ), we are the first broker to develop specific policy coverage to meet the needs for vacation rental properties and the amenities offered by these businesses. We have insured vacation rental properties since 2002.

The CBIZ Vacation Rental Insurance team knows insurance, specifically the risks and exposures related to short-term vacation rentals.We won't confuse you with technical "insurance speak" ~ our representatives are well versed in explaining your coverage in plain English. With hands-on, personal customer service, we guarantee swift communication and a 24/7 claims team that is ready to respond to your call any time of the day. As specialist in the industry, we leverage our knowledge and passion to ensure you and your business are adequately protected.