Using nature to protect yourself from wildfire

Using nature to protect yourself from wildfire

With drier-than-average conditions threatening a particularly bad year for wildfires, here are some tips to protect yourself and your home this year

When I arrived in Jackson this past February from southern New York, I had packed in preparation for extreme temperatures and deep snow. I had heard about the long, cold Jackson winters, so I was confused to see the sagebrush peeking out from under the snow in February and fifty-degree temperatures for much of March. March was so warm that wildlife started shedding and many of the elk moved out of the refuge before the April snowstorm. Despite hearing grumblings from people ready for spring when the late season storm hit, I happened to hear people cheering for the snow, specifically, a member of the Teton Area Wildfire Protection Coalition and two Teton County Fire Chiefs.  

It is no secret that Jackson’s snowpack was low this year. As of April 25, the Jackson Hole area had received 304” of snow (compared to a 500”/year average). While this might be good news for commuters, this is not good news for wildfire season. With the low snowpack this year and previous years of drought, local experts expect significant fire potential this season. With that in mind, it is time to start thinking about wildfire preparedness. 

Check out the Alliance’s Wild Neighborhoods website for more information on how to prepare your home for wildfire and visit the resources page for additional community and regional materials. 

One great way to mitigate the risk of wildfire at your property is to create a healthy, native landscape with fire resistant vegetation. 

Here’s how you can tell the difference between a fire-resistant plant and a highly flammable one: 

Fire Resistant

  • Start with native species. (As we are in a wildfire-prone area, plants have adapted their own ways of dealing with and possibly surviving fire) 
  • Leaves are moist and supple 
  • Plants have little deadwood/dry parts 
  • Sap is water-like and not scented 
  • High moisture content 
  • Lower limbs die off and are self-pruning 
  • Thick bark 

Highly Flammable

  • Some native plants are also highly flammable
  • Contain fine, dry, dead material 
  • Sap is thick and smelly 
  • Leaves, twigs, branches contain oils and resins 
  • Leaves will be smelly if crushed 
  • May have loose or papery bark 

Aspen trees are a good example of a local fire-resistant species

Two examples of local, fire-resistant plants are Aspens and Douglas-firs. Aspens hold a high amount of moisture, self-prune and they have deep, interconnecting root systems, which means that even if they do burn, they grow back quickly. Mature Douglas-firs have thick bark that acts as insulation for inner, living tree layers. Now, a question might be, how does more wood help a tree during a fire? It all comes down to particle size. A large log in a cabin will catch fire slower than kindling because kindling has smaller wood particle size. One example of local vegetation you would not want within thirty feet of your home is sagebrush, as it is oily and scented. 

Although fire-resistant plant species can survive low-intensity fires without burning, fire-resistant does not mean fireproof. Fire-resistant plants can and will burn in a high-intensity fire if exposed long enough. So, when picking plants for your property, consider the full context of your land. Where is the nearest water source? Is your property on a steep slope? Are you close to the fire department? Ask yourself these questions and do the appropriate research.  

A good place to start is with these three lists written by our neighbors in the Alpine Area Wildfire Protection Coalition: Firewise Shrubs, Firewise Grasses and Firewise Forbs.  

These lists contain different native fire-resistant plant species from ground cover and flowering plants to shrubs and trees. 

Phone: (307) 733-9417
685 S. Cache St. PO Box 2728
Jackson, Wyoming 83001