TWIN FALLS • As Brett VanPaepeghem drives around neighborhoods, he notices most people aren’t as safe as they might believe.
VanPaepeghem, who is the Boise-based southern Idaho project manager at Idaho Firewise, says homeowners often don’t put enough space between the shrubs and trees surrounding their homes. This can increase the risk of loss from a wildfire.
“We don’t want landscape that is continuous to the house like a fuse,” VanPaepeghem said.
Thursday, VanPaepeghem was in Twin Falls for the opening of the College of Southern Idaho Breckenridge Endowment Farm Firewise Demonstration Garden across from the CSI campus. It is the sixth garden he’s helped open in southern Idaho.
The firewise garden is a joint project between the Mid-Snake Resource Conservation and Development, the CSI Agriculture Department and Horticulture Program and the Twin Falls District Bureau of Land Management. It will be open to the public year-round in order to better educate the public about fire protection.
The term “firewise” describes the goal of teaching residents about how planting low-growing, fire resistant shrubs, groundcover and perennials around their homes can reduce the risk of home destruction, says the National Fire Protection Association. Firewise Idaho is the result of the Idaho State Fire Plan Working Group’s 2007 National Fire Plan survey that was distributed to all 44 counties. The survey indicated that there was a need for a statewide fire education and prevention programs.
The firewise garden at CSI demonstrates various landscape plants that are fire resistant such as ‘Powis Castle’ wormwood and succulent plants like hens and chicks. It also offers kiosks throughout the garden with maintenance tips that can help protect homes from wildfires. The firewise garden will be maintained by CSI horticultural students and lead by horticulture instructor Chance Munns, designed the garden layout.
Instead of telling homeowners about the fire resistant shrubs and plants they should be planting, Lorraine Simonson said, she will now be able to show them. Simonson is the fire educator for the Mid-Snake RC&D and works with five firewise communities in the eight counties. Firewise communities are those that work together to ensure their homes are defendable against wildfire and meet the requirements of Firewise Community USA.
“We know we need to do this education with the community,” Simonson said. “If one house catches fire, all are at risk.”
The defensible space of a firewise landscape is divided into three treatment zones, which increase in fire resistance as you get closer to your home. A minimum treatment area of 100 feet is recommended for homes and outbuildings on flat ground, and up to 200 feet or more on sloped sites. This is because fire behaves differently on slopes than it does on flat areas.
Though there are typically three firewise zones, Munns has added a fourth to the garden. This area will showcase native plants and trees such as the western white pine and ponderosa pine. The main garden also features two other gardens. One is the All American Selection garden, which promotes new garden seed varieties of plants and flowers. The All American Selection garden will change every year. The firewise garden will not change, but different plants will be added. The third garden will eventually feature native plants and wildflowers, but still lacks funding.
In late June, more than 500 plants were planted in the firewise garden section alone.
In the future, Munns said, he would like to add more themed gardens open to the public. He envisions creating an Italian garden and a butterfly garden.