How to Create Defensible Fire Fighting Space Around a Cabin


If it were not for the defensible space around our cabin, I would be reluctant to leave it on its own. My family owns a beautiful cabin that we often use during the spring and summer months. The relaxing days I spend up in the woods wouldn’t exist without a protected cabin. 

What does it mean to create a “defensible fire-fighting space” around a cabin? A defensible space is a landscaped, or natural area around a cabin which is designed to reduce fire danger and damage. The creating of this type of perimeter is often referred to as “fire-scaping.” There are many methods of fire-scaping you can use to protect your cabin.

I want to impart some of the things I’ve learned about protecting cabins from wildfires, so your cabin doesn’t isn’t taken by a fire. Good landscaping and smart construction of your cabin getaway will provide for a longlasting life for your cabin. I’m sure you have many vacations and getaways planned in the future- wouldn’t want any of those to go to waste.

Exterior Wildfire Suppression System

Water is the enemy of fire. Water and moisture is your best friend when trying to keep your cabin safe. One system you can use to put out wildfires around your cabin is an exterior suppression system.

This is something akin to a sprinkler system you are able to flip on in case of a fire is one. This sprinkler system should be attached to an external water source like a river or a lake.

This system need not be extremely close to the cabin, but surrounding the cabin at a distance so as to stop/inhibit the flames before they can reach the cabin.  This system has helped many cabins through wildfires and is a proven method.

Another similar method is the use of sprinklers on the roof. When a wildfire starts, the sprinklers can wet the rooftop, surrounding area, and what is below. The moisture in the air lowers the temperature and prevents the fire from spreading as far.

This is a popular and effective way which has been used for a long time. People use it to keep their yard nice and green, but it is also used for fire protection.

You will want a professional to install whatever system you choose to use. I’ve had too many experiences with people who think they know how to install things on their own and they have paid dearly for it. Hire a professional if this is the way you want to fire-proof your cabin.

If you’re worried you may not be near your cabin in the event of a wildfire, there are options for purchasing a system which will turn on automatically. You will not have to worry about your cabin burning to a crisp if you have an automatic sensing system.

Fire-Safe Landscaping And a Well-Maintained Yard

A well-maintained yard is certainly an attractive quality in any humble abode, but when it comes to a cabin in the woods, it’s not just about aesthetics. When clearing away space for your cabin, and maintaining the landscape, there are some plants and landscaping techniques you can use which will further protect it.

Here is a list of landscaping techniques to consider:

  • Clear ample space between your cabin and the rest of the forest- It will take longer for the fire to reach your cabin if it has nothing to burn.
  • Place fire-proof plants and rocks around your cabin- The fire cannot burn something that isn’t flammable. If you do not have the funds to purchase a water system, this method is a great way to inexpensively protect what is yours. (It can also be very artistic)
  • Choose a spot near a river, lake, or moist area- watery areas keep the air wet. Most importantly, it keeps the air cool. In a wildfire, cool and moist air helps suppress the fire’s ability to travel further. If you are thinking about building a cabin and are just doing some pre-research on this site, take my advice and consider building a cabin near a water source. For one, it’s beautiful, and two, you’ll have a better chance of keeping that cabin for a long time.
  • When clearing a space, trim trees and create space between plants- By trimming just below trees, you are preventing the fire from traveling, and once again your cabin will be that much safer. In addition to that, reducing large clusters of trees and plants will also prevent the fire from traveling as fast. When you create ample space between trees and shrubs, you are stopping the fire from using those trees and shrubs like a ladder.

Home Ignition Zone

In addition to wildfires, your cabin is in danger of fires within. These fires can be more like explosions in some cases. Things like propane tanks and woodpiles which are often stored close to the walls of your house should be stored at a distance.

The closer you get to the house, the more fire prevention you will need. By using a fire-resistant material for your cabin, like stucco, concrete, or metal will also increase its durability against fires. Some other “close-to-home” preventative measures would be to:

  • Clear your roof of debris and low hanging branches from trees.
  • Don’t allow highly combustible materials to be stored too close to the cabin.
  • Weeds and grass that are extremely close to the cabin should be cut short and kept moist and green.

How you care for your cabin remains entirely up to you. What method you choose to use will depend on where you choose to build, or where your cabin is already placed. The more space you have around your cabin and the more non-combustible materials you keep close by is crucial to keeping your vacation spot safe from harm.

How Wide Should A Firebreak Be?

First, you need to know what a firebreak is. A firebreak is a space between your cabin and the nearby vegetation. Or, it is a gap created by a lack of vegetation fire cannot pass through because there is nothing to burn.  There is not a set standard as to how large a firebreak should be.

However, it should be large enough that the fire is not able to travel any further and cannot ‘jump’ to other weeds and brush that will get it started again. For example, a fire break should be two to three times as wide as the nearest surface vegetation. (this can generally be about 2-15 feet.)

Firebreaks are even used in the National forests to prevent and contain wildfires so these forests aren’t completely destroyed when a fire hits. This ‘firebreak’ can either be a lack of weeds, or, it can be weeds, bushes, or any kind of vegetation which has been cut low.

It has to be low enough so that it does not become a never-ending source of fuel for the fire. It’s not a perfect method, but it has been known to work and is just another method in which you can keep your cabin safe.

Other Options To Consider

We live in a world of increasing knowledge and technology. There are non-combustible roofs, walls, and sprinkler systems which come in all shapes and sizes. The ones I’ve listed are just a few simple ones I have come to learn in my own experience, but they are not the only ways you can go about keeping your weekend getaway safe.

Related Questions…

Which areas of the United States have the least fire danger for cabins? If you’re going to build a cabin in the forest, there aren’t many places that are fire-proof…because you’re in the middle of the forest. The most popular areas are places like Idaho, Wyoming, and Yellowstone. They are beautiful places, and the most popular of those areas are very near water sources.

How much does a cabin sprinkler system cost? The cost of a sprinkler system for about 1/4- acre lot is close to $3000 to $4000. If you were to install it yourself it would be a couple thousand less than that.

Where can I purchase fire-resistant materials for my cabin? Just about any place which carries the materials for building a cabin will have a fire-resistant product option. As long as you know what you are looking for, they’ll likely have it anywhere you go for materials. 

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