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Douglass Ranch Extinguisher

Vol. 1, Issue 9 | September 07, 2023

Fire Resistant Gardening Part 4 | Trees.

Seana Nestegard | Firewise Committee

Hello Everyone!

Welcome to Part 4 of our Fire-Resistant Gardening series.

My original plan was to write about both trees and shrubs, but the further down the road I got in researching these topics, the more I realized the information was just too vast. So, I have decided to save the topic of shrubs for next issue, and focus today's article about the amazing world of the mountain forest.

We'll look at both conifer and deciduous tree species, learn more about the different types of forest fires, and the kinds of fuels that burn during a forest fire. And we'll cover landscaping tips to promote your fire-resistant garden and maximize the effectiveness of your fire mitigation.

Remember your defensible space!

I would like to reiterate the importance of landscape maintenance, especially with all the moisture we have had this summer.


Illustration provided courtesy of the Colorado State Forest Service. Used with Permission.

  • Immediate Zone - 0 to 5ft

  • Intermediate Zone - 5 to 30ft

  • Extended Zone - 30 to 100ft


Firefighters will often bypass a house, if a defensible space is absent,...

Maintaining your defensible space requires ongoing attention to mitigate forest fuels within the canopy, understory, and forest floor. Upkeep that requires your ongoing attention includes trimming branches that overhang the home, porch, and deck. Keep grasses mowed to at least 8 inches in height. Once wildflowers are spent, they also need to be mowed. Most important, is to remove and dispose of dry or dead plant materials around your home within the Immediate Zone. This would include pine needles and cones, grasses, etc. Firefighters will often bypass a house, if a defensible space is absent, and choose, instead, to make their stand where their safety has the best assurance, and a greater chance of successfully protecting the structure. This is a little-known fact, but this is why fire mitigation is especially important within the immediate zone.

There are three basic types of forest fires each of which burn plants at different levels:

Ground fires: Burns anything below the surface fuels. These could be roots or decaying branches, leaves and needles, and other dead plant materials. Ground fires usually don't have much flame, but they smolder.

Surface fires: Burns directly on the ground. Surface fuels burn loose needles, small trees (saplings), shrubs, fallen leaves, and cones, and really anything close to the ground.

Crown fires: Burns through the top layer of foliage known as the forest canopy. This fuel type, also referred to as aerial fuels, do not touch the ground. Crown fires are the most destructive spreading from tree to tree at a height from at least 1 meter or 39 inches above the ground. Aerial fuels could be alive or dead branches, leaves, bark on the trees, or tall bushes.

After reading the information regarding fire it makes you to wonder whether trees are safe to have around your house. The answer is, yes, they are! You just need to use your best defense, your brain. Tips for having trees in your fire-resistant area are:

  • Conifer Crown Spacing: Maintain at least 10’ or more if you are on a slope. This will help reduce the threat of crown fires.

  • Limb up your conifers: Prune all branches from ground level up to a height of 10’ above ground or up to ⅓ the height of the tree.

  • Eliminate ladder fuels: a wildfire is easier to contain if it remains on the ground.

Native trees on a large or small scale can maintain biodiversity that otherwise would be lost.

Decisions, decisions, decisions!

What can I have in my landscape? It is best to select native trees. This will maximize survival and match the site's life zone, moisture, light, and soil requirements. Native trees on a large or small scale can maintain biodiversity that otherwise would be lost. I can’t tell you how much time, money, and effort I have put into growing a tree that ends up dying! I have learned my lesson!

A few suggestions.

These are just a few of the many trees that are great for our area. The Colorado State University Extension ( has a wealth of information to assist you in your selections.

(Top left, Ponderosa Pine, leaves and fruit, Top Right, Douglas Fir, leaves and fruit, Bottom Left, Aspen, Bottom Center, Schubert Chokecherry, Bottom Right, Serviceberry)

Don’t limit yourself! Just because a species of tree is not native you still may have a green thumb and do extremely well with your selection. For instance, I absolutely love Japanese maples. So, I decided to go for it! I did not plant these in my landscape, but, instead, I put it in a pot. So far so good! I will keep you all posted on my success.

Recommended Reading

I have always wanted to live in a forest! Being in a forest, to me, is very peaceful and serene and I realized how vitally important it is to protect it.

As a huge tree hugger, I find this subject extremely interesting! There is so much data out there that it has made me see trees quite differently. Two extremely informative books I have read on this subject are, "Finding the Mother Tree: Uncovering the Wisdom and Intelligence of the Forest,” by Suzanne Simard and “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate––Discoveries from a Secret World,” by Peter Wohlleben.

In the next issue we'll look at how important shrubs are to wildlife for sustenance and shelter, and how to safely maintain them in your fire-resistant landscape.

As always….

Let’s All Be Safe!

Seana Nestegard,

Firewise Committee



Colorado State Forest Service: Colorado's Major Tree Species

Colorado State Forest Service: Fire-Resistant Landscaping 6.303

Colorado State University Extension

National Fire Protection Agency -

Northwest Fire Science Consortium. Fire Facts: What are the different Types of fire.


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