Wildfires can start easily with dry brush in fields and yards. COURTESY SC FORESTRY COMMISSION

People often think that dangerous wildfires occur only in the western United States, when in fact there is high fire activity in the South. Think of all the natural vegetation we have here. It can be fuel for a big fire.

Weather, topography and fuel are all elements together that determine how likely we are to have a fire, how fast a wildfire will burn, the direction a wildfire will burn, the intensity, and our ability to control the fire.

More people are now living in high vegetation areas and with more people using our wildlands, there is a greater chance of a fire starting. Today’s wildfires can burn intensely and be difficult to control. This can mean a greater loss of life, more property loss, more damage to natural resources and a great expense to all. 

So what can we do to live more safely in this environment? For one we can manage the vegetation around our house and create a “defensible space” (the area between a house and an oncoming wildfire that has been modified). It can be as simple as a well maintained backyard. 

Defensible space also provides an opportunity for firefighters to effectively defend a home. 

Remember that all vegetation, plants and trees are potential fuel for a fire. We can keep plants shorter, change the arrangement of plants, increase moisture in the area, remove dead branches and leaves, mow dried grass, and remove low tree branches that come in contact with homes. 

Keep only small amounts of flammable vegetation, get rid of dead vegetation and flammable debris and keep plants green and healthy during fire season. Routine maintenance of your landscape is the best thing you can do. 

There are some plants that are more fire resistant than others. They are less likely to ignite and they don’t burn so intensely. They have stems and leaves that are not oily or waxy and have a high moisture content. They are easy to prune and maintain and are drought resistant. Some common fire resistant plants are tulips, red oak, periwinkle, vinca, crape myrtle, azalea, and Boston ivy. 

For more information on wildfires in South Carolina, visit state.sc.us/forest.

Cinda Seamon is the fire and life safety educator for Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue.