Back to Basics for Wildfire Safety


    Orinda has been really stepping up to the plate to make our town fire adapted. Kudos to us! Here’s a quick primer to make sure you are covering all your bases in creating and maintaining a defensible space around your home and also hardening the home itself.
    Step 1: Determine how big the defensible space should be. If you are on a flat lot, it should be 100 feet from the home; if on a moderate or steep slope, increase that to 200 feet. If that extends to your neighbor’s lot, then it’s probably time to work together to keep that space properly managed.
    Step 2: Remove all dead vegetation: shrubs, fallen branches, grass, weeds, flowers as well as dead or dying standing trees or fallen trees.
    Within five feet of your home, remove dead vegetation routinely. Do not use bark or wood mulches or landscape timbers or board in this zone. Use herbaceous or deciduous plants that are low-growing, irrigated and maintain the MOFD “box” of two feet from the house and leave a one foot airgap between the ground and plant. Make sure there is six feet of vertical clearance between the tree canopy and roof.
    From five feet to 30 feet, remove dead material every year by the MOFD deadline of June 1. Leave only healthy plants and give them space. If you have eucalyptus and Monterey pines within six feet of your home, you need to remove them. Keep roof and gutters clean.
    Step 3: Create separation between plants. Thin dense shrubs to create more space. Depending on the slope of your terrain, shrubs or small clumps of shrubs should be separated by at least twice the height of the average shrub with more distance between plants on steep slopes.
    Step 4: No ladder fuels. It is critical to get rid of plants that can help fire climb up from low-growing plants to adjacent taller shrubs and trees. Remove shrubs and trees growing under the drip line of your trees and remove low-hanging branches not to exceed the bottom third of the tree’s height.
    Step 5: Make it lean, clean and green. Maintain your landscaping by eliminating easily ignitable fuels near your home like broom, juniper, bamboo and others. Keep the roadside free of vegetation within three feet horizontally and 15 feet vertically from the edge of the road.
    As always, you can visit the MOFD at for help. You can schedule a chipper pick-up, get lists of recommended plants and ground cover and helpful videos about how to do this work.
    Even better, the MOFD Fire Adapted Community Ambassador program now offers the ability to make an appointment with a trained volunteer who will come to your home and give you a free assessment. Just sign up at

Melanie Light can be reached at

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