Creating defensible space is essential to improve your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire. CAL FIRE defines defensible space as: “…the buffer you create between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surrounds it. This space is needed to slow or stop the spread of wildfire and it protects your home from catching fire—either from direct flame contact or radiant heat. Defensible space is also important for the protection of firefighters defending your home.”

Defensible space is your property’s frontline defense against wildfire. Creating and maintaining defensible space around your home can dramatically increase your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire and improves the safety of firefighters defending your property. One hundred feet of defensible space is required by law.

Defensible space and clearing does not mean that you denude or clearcut your property. Rather, your goal is to remove the most flammable materials. Balance your fire-safety actions with general ecosystem health. Don’t disturb the ground around streams or you will cause erosion that will harm fish. If you have the good fortune to live along a stream or river with fish in it, make sure you stay at least 100 feet away from the stream or outside of the Streamside Management Area in your clearing activities. It’s okay to remove some dead vegetation there (like pruning in your garden); however, don’t take out live vegetation—especially trees—near streams or rivers. Always maintain a dense shade canopy for fish. Finally, many species of wildlife—such as bear, fox, bobcat, songbirds, and others—use streams as corridors in which to move from one area to another.

Leave them some cover to be able to do this without disturbing you, or vice versa. If you feel that more intensive treatment is necessary near a stream (which may be the case in some instances), in Humboldt County, contact the Planning and Building Department to determine if a Special Permit is required for work within the Streamside Management Area. County Planning and Building may be reached by calling 707-445-7245 or visiting

This is reprinted from “Living with Wildfire in Northwestern California” with permission from Humboldt County, CAL FIRE and Six Rivers National Forest. Copies of the complete guide are available at Dazey’s Building Center and Chautauqua Natural Foods, both of which are in Garbverville. It is also available online at

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