Firewise Tips of the Week

Icelandic Way Finder Rune - the Vegvisir - guides you away from danger.

During summer 2023, we posted specific things you can do to prepare your property for (against) the event of an Urban Wildfire. A bunch of little things can add up to a safer, defensible space.

Feel free to share this Tips-of-the-Week page with your neighbors, on Facebook, or in email to anyone in the country.

Create a defensible space around your home!

You might think that a fireproof home would need to be a concrete bunker with a metal roof, and paved yard. Maybe so, but you can make an ordinary home a lot more resistant to wildfires by surrounding it with a defensible space (your yard), and paying attention to the exterior - the roof, gutters, siding, decking, and so on.

Our State Fire Marshal says: "A defensible space is not a moonscape or a yard devoid of plants".

Ignition Zones image from this poster - [PDF]

A defensible space encompasses a whole range of such things, including these TIPS we gave over the hot summer weeks of 2023:

Please SCROLL DOWN for the full version of each of these TIPS.

For more, see the complete set of recommendations on creating a defensible space on a website created by the Oregon State Fire Marshal. [LINK]

A Wider Scope

If you and all your neighbors' properties have defensible spaces, the likelihood of fire spreading thru the community is greatly diminished!

That leaves nearby overgrown public places (ravines, swales, vacant lots, easements, ...) such as in Stephens Creek, Marshal Park, Tryon, RVNA, hyper local ravines. This could be a huge under-brush-taking. Our Firewise community could at least focus on creating strategic breaks and buffers.


A defensible space it not just moving combustibles away from the outside of your home, it is a combination of measures that reduce the ability of a local ground fire or flying embers igniting your home.

Remember - It's not a sprint - it's a marathon!

We recommend breaking the work into small spring, fall, and winter weekend projects.


Defensible Space website, created by the Oregon State Fire Marshal. [LINK]

A complete set of recommendations on creating a defensible space is on this website, created by the Oregon State Fire Marshal. [LINK]

Going Wonky - many good, serious questions are answered here... Like what role Building Codes play, and whether assessment data is share with your insurance company (No). [FAQ]

Collins View Virtual Doorhanger [LINK]

Fire Resistant Plantings

There is no such thing as a fireproof plant but some are fire resistant and some are more flammable.

Autumn is planting time in Portland. Don’t invite highly flammable tinder bombs into your garden.

Plants that contain aromatic oils, resins, waxes or gummy sap are among the quickest to ignite. Grasses, trees with peeling, papery bark like river birch and fine-needled evergreens are highly flammable. Redwoods are considered fire-resistant due to the tannic acid in their bark. See the FIRE RESISTANCE Scale below.

Fire Resistance of categories of Plants

Native plants aren’t necessarily less flammable than introduced species, but nonnative, invasive plants often pose higher fire risks because they spread readily, outcompete native vegetation and tolerate heat, drought and heavy rains well.

And then there is FENNEL, an aromatic herb in the carrot family. It is beloved by bees, cooks, absinthe aficionados, and fire carriers. It can harbor embers in its hollow stalks. Prometheus carried fire from Mt. Olympus in the stalks of Giant Fennel. A cautionary tale indeed.

For the best fire resistance, select deciduous trees like ash, crabapple, dogwood, locust, maple and oak. Succulents like ice plants and sedums are slow burners, as are some groundcovers like ajuga and creeping phlox.

Resources for this Tip of the Week are:

Pine needles!

TIP: Keep valleys on your roof clear of pine needle accumulation.

Embers attack!

Yeah, those needles and the dry duff stuff that clog your gutters’ “filters” and pile up in your roof canyons are very flammable and readily airborne when ignited. Airborne embers - think the very light pine needles alight and afloat - cause the rapid spread of fire along our Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), and endanger our homes. Airborne embers and small flames are the main way that the majority of homes ignite in wildfires. Burning embers get lodged between roof shingles, ignite leaf or pine litter and get sucked into our homes from vents. Other organic debris-collecting sections that are vulnerable to wildfires are windows, decks, fencing, vents, and eaves.

Much mulch talk: When does duff become mulch? Particle size? What? Chime in!

Inorganic mulches such as gravel or rocks offer superior fire-proofing alternatives. These should be used when mulch needs to be next to flammable structures (homes, sheds, siding, or decking).

Regularly removing the windblown debris that has collected on the rocks and roof prevents small debris fires from igniting structures. Nuisance chores, but easy.

Pine Needles on Roof, waiting to ignite house!

For clues, more information and great links go to [Collins View Firewise Community home page].

What is a Ladder Fuel?

TIP: Remove "Ladder Fuels" such as vines from trees and other structures to keep fire from climbing onto your house or finding other sources of fuel.

Ladder Fuel growing on/next to fence.

Ladder Fuel is a firefighting term for vegetation - live or dead - that allows a fire to climb up from the ground into the tree canopy. Tall grasses, shrubs and low hanging tree branches are tinder-dry ladder fuels in our hot dry Portland summer. Removing this vegetation reduces the risk of fire bridging the gap from the ground to the canopy – or to our homes.

Pruning vegetation away from our houses and removing fuel ladders is part of defensible space 'firescaping' practices. Pruning back the low leafy branches of shrubs puts some space between their main foliage and ground fire.

A defensible space, in the context of fire control [LINK], is an area around a structure that has been maintained and designed to reduce fire danger. Reducing the available “fuel” interrupts the path of a vegetation fire.

Other Ladder Fuels could be combustible junk leaning against your house, from the ground up. If fire reaches it on the ground, flames can climb the ladder fuel upward.

Fence attached to House?

TIP: Avoid connecting a wooden fence to your flammable home.

Example of a wooden fence attached to house

Do you have a Wooden fence connected to your house? Fire could burn along the fence up to the house, like a fuse. Even if the house is brick or other non-combustible material, the soffit (eves) could be ignited and burn through to the roof. A simple defense would be to replace a section of wooden fence attached to the house with metal or other non-combustible material of your choice.

It's also a good idea to keep dry vegetation away from any fence attached to your home. In the example shown, you can't see what is on the other side, or off to the right... This doesn't seem to be super common, but you do see a number of these situations while walking, driving, or riding the bus around the neighborhood.

(I think this Tip comes from the film Elemental which includes lab testing of certain kinds of landscaping. I recommend streaming this film. [LINK] — JM)

Islands of Fuel

TIP: Cluster flammable landscaping into "Islands of Fuel" away from your home. Same goes for any flammable scraps of wood or firewood you may have on site..

(This tip needs rewriting. Tthe Firewise knowledge is about flammable LANDSCAPING - will revise with a better photo ASAP! --jm Oct 2023.)


TIP: Clean your gutter of dry leaves and combustibles!

Dry Leaves in a Gutter on Aug 22, 2015

During a wildfire, big sparks (firebrands) are carried by the wind, fall on your roof, and roll down into your gutter. If your gutter is full of dry leaves and needles, you've got a fire in your gutter now that can ignite your roof... There goes your home. What was once wet glop is now baked bone dry. As goofy as it may sound, cleaning your gutters can save your home. Embers rolling into an empty metal gutter can die there. Be Firewise.

Space deck boards to allow debris to fall through deck

TIP: Space deck boards far enough apart that a debris can fall through the gaps, and not harbor an ember that might come along.

Closely spaced Deck Boards... no space!

Deck boards should have sufficient spacing so that needle cast, and other debris won't collect between the them as easily, and fall through. Embers may also fall through, but the wider gap is meant to reduce the amount of debris that can collect in-between. There's been photos shown of burn marks from embers landing on decks, yet not igniting it because there were not enough fine fuels available to sustain the chemical reaction to create a fire.

Presumably the ground below is clear of combustibles (natural or otherwise). Mineral soil, eg clay, etc won't catch fire...

Also, though less probable - Spacing deck boards too closely (as shown above) could be more of a hazard that wider spacing because with tight spacing, any firebrands (big sparks) could sit on the Bone dry deck and possibly ignite it! Whereas bigger gaps between boards allow a rolling spark to fall through to the ground.

Of course if your deck is already built, there's not a lot you can do short of re-spacing the boards! But it's something to consider when replacing the boards, or building a new deck. The practical problem is how and when to to clean out the gaps. Pressure washing is such a drag!

When we built this deck, the advice was to put the boards close together, because the lumber was "Green" (new) it had moisture in it, so it was going to shrink as it dried. We spaced them WAY to closely. Now, it's hard to clean between the cracks, because they jamb up with organic matter.

The question is.. what would a good size gap be? I can imagine a gap that a small marble could fall through would be serviceable. (Larger than Ltty Bitty, smaller than Pee Wee)

Wire mesh or screening over attic and crawlspace vents...

TIP: To reduce the chances of embers entering your home, consider providing 1/8" or less screening over attic vents and foundation vents.

Vent Screened with 1/8" screen in 1941.

Place wire mesh or screening over basement window wells. These wells accumulate dry leaves and debris - perfect fire starters. The mesh will prevent such accumulation, and allow for easy removal of accumulation, at ground level.

Consider skirting your decks with a fire resistive skirt such as Hardy Board or provide screening that is 1/8' or less. Deck posts and skirting material should terminate to mineral soil (or concrete pads).

Related Tips

Recommend removing all combustible storage from under your deck. The dirt below the deck should be mineral soil or decorative rock, never bark dust or mulch.

Place a spark arrestor on any chimneys. (Also, don't use fireplace during hot dry weather!)

Skeptical response: But you told me last week to have large gaps in my deck boards so sparks could fall through -- to the ground under my deck! What the heck? Answer: Correct! First, remove all combustibles from under your deck - eg dry leaves, scraps of woods, etc, down to bare soil.. THEN screen it off so that no NEW dry leaves will accumulate. Be Firewise!

Ready Set Go?

TIP: Keep your important stuff together. Also make a checklist of things to gather in case you get the READY signal..

Example Ready-Set-Go items


You don't want to have to make 100 decisions under duress. SO:

Think about how you would pack you vehicle for an evacuation. You'll want access to food, clothes, etc. The cherished items could be on the bottom of your load.


Will it all fit? Consider doing a trial packing if fire dangers arise.

The logistics of any evacuation are complicated here in southwest Portland due to the terrain, the limited access in/out, the river, etc. Evacuation is beyond the scope of Tip of The Week, but the advice is to leave at Level 2 - don't wait for Level 3 - because roadways may be jammed.

You can think about where you might flee to in a fire, but in a dire emergency, you may be TOLD where you are going. It's hard to imagine such a scenario.

We will have a Tip of the Week on evacuating your family, and a Tip on GO BAGS. See References below if you wanna be 'Pre Ready'!

Evacuation Tips, Part 1

Personal Evac Experiences:

“Leave at the Evac Level #1 notice Get Ready” — From a friend who has been through emergency evacuations several times. This is particularly important advice for those of us in SW neighborhoods with few exit routes.

“Pack your Chainsaw!” — From my son’s friend’s 2020 experience: At the Evac #3 notice “Go Now” — When he came out, embers were flying and landing on their necks! That quick. He and neighbor tossed CHAINSAWs in their trucks- and used them to clear roads as they led the caravan of evacuees.

So you make all these preparations to grab and go and you didn’t need to use them? Regrets? Not so much. But having been told, and having thought about the preparations but didn’t do them? “I wish I had…” are the words of big time regrets.

The car is filling up quickly.

Do you have personal evac experiences to contribute?

Check out this Grab and Go Bag list from British Columbia. They ought to know: BC GO BAG

Grab and Go Bag graphic from British Columbia

Pack food, water, shelter, meds, first aid, pet supplies, sanitation supplies, power banks, documents, radios. Prepare ahead of time with the full tank of gas, cash/money. Long lines of last-minute stocker-uppers mean any supplies of gas or cash have been exhausted. Power out means those machines won’t work anyway.

Suggestions for other grab and go supplies?

However much you decide to prepare for an evacuation during a wildfire, DO NOT EVEN CONSIDER riding it out and staying at home. The fire department will have its hands full putting out fires. They will not be able to do residents’ safety checks or rescues.

To be continued in Evacuation Tips, Part 2.

This Firewise Tip of the Week is brought to you by the Collins View Firewise Community [LINK]

Signing up for the PF&R Firewise Assessment go to this [PAGE], then find the WUI assessment link to 'Schedule free wild land – urban interface assessment at your home'. (Or just use this Direct link to the [Sign-Up Form])

Evacuation Tips, Part 2

How to Leave Your Home:

So… To protect yourself and family, you’ve already hardened your property against an Urban Wildfire event and made it a safer, defensible space. You’ve consulted your list, gassed up and packed the car, emailed your evac plans to family, neighbors, and out of town contacts. You know your community’s emergency response plan and the best routes. You’ve checked with neighbors who may need help or a ride. READY TO ROLL? NOT QUITE.

HERE ARE THINGS TO DO to protect the homestead at this 13th hour:


Prop any wooden gates Open upon leaving!


Be sure to check the "Ready, Set, Go" Tip of the Week, also on this page.

This Tip of the Week is brought to you by the Collins View Firewise Community. Sign up for a free PF&R Firewise Assessment [LINK]