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Living With Fire Tip #11 - Eliminate ladder fuels

Posted 6/25/2007

Vegetation that can carry a fire burning in low-growing plants into taller plants and trees is called "ladder fuel." For example, a fire burning in fallen pine needles can ignite dry grass, which can then ignite sagebrush, which can then ignite low-growing tree branches, and eventually, the entire tree is burning. By removing some of the "rungs of the ladder," you can prevent fires from reaching tree crowns, which represent a large amount of potential fuel for fires that will burn intensely.

Create a separation between the tree canopy and the low-growing vegetation that is at least three times the height of the understory plants. For example, if the low-growing plants are 3 feet tall, the separation distance needed between them and the tree canopy would be 9 feet. The separation can be created by:

  • removing the lower growing tree branches
  • shortening the height of the understory vegetation
  • or completely removing the understory plants.

If there is no vegetation under the trees, remove tree limbs to a height of 2 feet to 6 feet, depending on the size of the trees. This will prevent a fire that is burning in fallen pine needles, leaves, and twigs from igniting the trees. Do not remove more than one-third of a tree’s branches, as this could damage the tree’s health.

To learn more about protecting your home from the threat of wildfire, visit or contact Ed Smith, natural resources specialist, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, (775) 782-9960 or . Living With Fire is an interagency program coordinated by University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension is an outreach arm of the University that extends unbiased, research-based knowledge from the University of Nevada—and other land-grant universities—to local communities. Educational programs are developed based on local needs, sometimes in partnership with other agencies and volunteers. For more information about the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, please visit the website at or call (702) 222-3130. ###

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