Creating defensible space can help all Oregonians be prepared for wildfire. Defensible space is the buffer you create between your business or home and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surrounds it. Proper defensible space can slow or stop the spread of wildfire and help protect your home or business. This checklist provides recommendations for getting started and includes actions you can take in the short term, such as over a weekend, and options to consider when upgrading your home or landscape. Defensible space can offer protection from firebrands and embers that can travel several miles from the firefront. Studies show that wellmaintained defensible space can increase structures' chances of surviving a wildfire, providing protection even if firefighters cannot reach it. Following these recommendations can increase the likelihood your home or business will survive a wildfire, but they may not eliminate wildfire threat, so it is important to follow all evacuation orders in the event of a wildfire. If you have questions about this tool, request assistance with completing your assessment, or want to learn more about defensible space, please contact your local fire agency or the Oregon State Fire Marshal online at oregondefensiblespace.org
Steps to Create Defensible Space
- To start, look at your home to make sure combustible materials like dried pine needles, and leaves are removed from gutters, eaves, and around your chimney.
- Limb trees several feet off the ground to help avoid fire from getting into the tree crowns.
- Keep patios clean of dry combustible materials during times of high fire danger.
- Remove flammable items like outdoor furniture cushions.
- If possible, keep dry wood piles and construction debris 30 feet away from your home.
- Make sure bushes around your home are limbed and not touching the siding.
- Roofs and gutters are clean from leaves, conifer needles, and other debris.
- Flammable vegetation is removed from growing directly under the eaves. A minimum of five feet from the structure is recommended.
- Exterior attic vents, soffit vents, and areas below decks and patios are covered with 1/8″ metal wire mesh.
- Siding and skirting are in good condition.
- Leaves, conifer needles, deadwood, bark mulch, and other debris removed from the surface of, around, and below decks and fences.
- Fence attachments to the structure have a noncombustible alternative such as a metal gate or fence.
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What is defensible space?
Defensible space is the buffer you create between your business or home and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surrounds it. Good defensible space can slow or stop the spread of wildfire and help protect your home or business.
How does defensible space help protect my home?
Defensible space protects your home or business from wildfire; even small actions make a big difference. Embers are the leading cause of home loss during a wildfire. They can travel up to three miles ahead of the main flame front. Well-maintained defensible space can increase your home’s chance of survival by 75% by reducing the chances of embers igniting items or plants in your yard.
Where do I start when creating my defensible space?
- We recommend breaking it into small spring, fall, and winter weekend projects.
- First, start at your home and work out from there. Remove combustible materials like dry leaves and pine needles from your roof, gutters, and eaves.
- Next, move to the foundation of your home and make sure combustible landscaping like bark dust or mulch is not touching your home. Consider replacing combustible landscaping with bare dirt, gravel, or pavers.
- Next, trim and limb bushes and trees so they are not touching your home. This does not mean you need to remove all the plants from your yard. Instead, give plants some space from one another. Consider removing tall brush from under trees and some of the lower limbs so fire on the ground cannot get into the tree canopy.
- Continue moving outward from your home to 50 feet or to the property line to give added protection from wildfire.
Defensible space seems like a lot of work; how do I get all these projects done?
Much like preparing for any natural disaster, Oregonians can tackle these projects one at a time. Your defensible space does not need to be completed in a day. Instead, plan a weekend project such as cleaning the gutters. The following weekend, move to the next project on the list. In small increments, a defensible space plan can come together. Your defensible space plan does not have to encompass multiple acres of work. Instead, focus on the immediate area around your home to give it the best chance of surviving a wildfire.
Who can I talk to about defensible space recommendations?
The OSFM has resources available to discuss defensible space. We have field staff across the state working in local communities to answer questions. Your local fire department is also a great resource. Check if your community is participating in a voluntary neighborhood program like Firewise USA® or another program geared toward better-protecting homes from wildfire. Email OSFM’s Defensible Space Program to get started.
Is there funding to help Oregonians with defensible space projects?
The Office of State Fire Marshal is working to develop grant programs to help with defensible space projects. To learn about our office’s grant programs, visit our website. The OSFM funded 269 community wildfire reduction projects statewide to support wildfire risk reduction projects, equipment, and staff in local communities. To find where the funding is available, read more here.
How and when are you going to enforce new codes?
OSFM was directed to develop language that could act as code in the future. There is no code in place in Oregon as of June 2023. OSFM will pursue a robust public process to adopt any statewide code language. A final draft of the language can be found here.
What are the new home hardening building codes?
The Building Codes Division (BCD) is the point of contact for statewide building codes. More information, such as draft language, meeting minutes, and a timeline, can be found on BCD’s website, explaining their role in statewide wildfire preparedness.
Are you going to share the assessment with my insurance company?
No, the assessment will not be shared with your insurance company. After completing a walk-through with a fire service member, you will receive a copy of the report and may choose to share this report with your insurer.
How do I prove that my yard or home meets the defensible space standards?
The assessment form is available for download on this site, or if an assessor visits your property, those forms reflect the statewide standards. There is no code in place.
Will you make me remove all the plants/trees/etc. from my property?
No, defensible space is not a moonscape or a yard devoid of plants. Effective defensible space can be achieved by planning plant placements, choosing fire-resistant plants, and annual maintenance.
How can I request a defensible space assessment?
You can request an assessment from your local fire department or OSFM by using the assessment request portal or calling 503-934-0874.https://fonts.gstatic.com/s/i/productlogos/voice_2020q4/v7/web-24dp/logo_voice_2020q4_color_2x_web_24dp.png") !important; background-repeat: no-repeat !important; background-size: contain !important; border: 0px !important; display: inline-block !important; height: 1em !important; margin: 0px !important; padding: 0px !important; width: 1em !important;" title="Call +1 503-934-0874 via Google Voice">
How much does the assessment cost?
The defensible space assessment service is free.
Who will be coming to my property to do the assessment?
Depending on your area, a Deputy State Fire Marshal or someone from your local fire district or department will come to your property when you request a defensible space assessment.
What tools will be used to conduct the assessment?
The fire service professional will use an assessment form on a smartphone app. The fire service professional will fill out the form with you as you both walk around your property. When the assessment is finished, the fire service professional will provide you with an assessment report for your records.
I live in an area without internet or phone service. Can I still request an assessment?
Yes, the phone app works without internet, and a paper form is also available for use. You may also give OSFM a call at 503-934-0874 https://fonts.gstatic.com/s/i/productlogos/voice_2020q4/v7/web-24dp/logo_voice_2020q4_color_2x_web_24dp.png") !important; background-repeat: no-repeat !important; background-size: contain !important; border: 0px !important; display: inline-block !important; height: 1em !important; margin: 0px !important; padding: 0px !important; width: 1em !important;" title="Call +1 503-934-0874 via Google Voice">to schedule an assessment.
Who developed the defensible space recommendations on the form?
The Governor’s Fire Service Policy Council (GFSPC) developed the defensible space recommendations in partnership with multiple state agencies and Oregon fire service representatives. The recommendations are based on industry best practices for wildfire preparedness and defensible space.
How can this help me with my property insurance?
The assessment is an education tool, and insurance companies are not required to consider it when providing insurance rates or coverage; however, the Department of Financial Regulation (DFR)—the state insurance regulator—was involved in the development of the assessment tool and has encouraged Oregon insurers to use the assessment tool as the statewide standard for defensible space.
Will this assessment impact my wildfire risk classification on any state wildfire risk maps?
No, the assessment is an educational tool and is separate from any statewide wildfire risk or hazard map.
Does the assessment count as a defensible space code inspection?
No, the assessment is an educational tool and is not required by law. The recommendations on the assessment tool were based on the standards in the draft Oregon defensible space code; however, the code is on pause until further notice, and assessments will not substitute any inspections that may occur in the future.
What if I don’t want to cut any trees or make certain recommendations on my property?
The assessments are educational and provide tailored recommendations for your property. The recommendations are not required by law. The recommendations are based on best practices for preparing your property for wildfire, allowing you to work with OSFM or your fire department to develop the best solutions for your individual property.
What does the state do with the data collected during the assessment?
The application used for the assessments only collects location and defensible space recommendations for the property. The Oregon State Fire Marshal maintains the assessment data in a secure ArcGIS database. The data will help the Oregon fire service prioritize limited and valuable resources for communities needing wildfire preparedness assistance. OSFM will not share your data with any other entity.
I had an Assessment done by someone else, such as the ODF or a non-profit. Do I need to have another Assessment done now?
Not necessarily. OSFM’s partnering agency, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), uses the same assessment tool. If you received a defensible space assessment in the past, it might be time to request a new one to help you continue the work on your defensible space. An assessment is not required for any property owner in Oregon at this time.