Trial by Fire

These landscaping tips will keep your home safe long before the first signs of wildfire.

By Debra Lee Baldwin

Photography by Liz Cockrum


Fuel for FireUse landscaping to protect your home from a wildfire.

Brush fires have always been a fall phenomenon in Southern California, sometimes burning hundreds of square miles of wilderness. The natural result of lightning storms, these fires are part of the growth cycle of native plants; wild lilac, sumac, creosote bush, and other chaparral species benefit from fire's intense pruning and cleansing. Following winter rains, green growth resurges, and in spring, wildflower seeds scarified by the fire turn hillsides into tapestries of colorful, ephemeral blooms.

During the past decade, as more and more of the region's population spread into remote areas, this natural burn cycle became a billion-dollar menace. Wildfires make headlines when homes and lives are threatened, which happens more and more as subdivisions stretch out into the countryside. Add to the equation chaparral that is drier than normal as a result of ongoing drought, and all it takes is a carelessly (or deliberately) tossed match for environmental and human disaster to ensue.