Preparing for Fire Season
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
by: April Pigott, Park West

Section: Trends and Tips

If you have not noticed the dry heat and afternoon winds indicate that fire season has officially arrived. The drought-busting wet winter we experienced brought beautiful green hillsides and record wildflower blooms in the spring. This sudden growth has now dried to become extremely flammable.  It is important to properly prepare your properties for California’s wildfire season which can start in summer and continue through the warm Santa Ana winds in the fall. If your property is in a high fire propensity zone, abuts open space, or otherwise is in the potential path of a wildfire, you may want to discuss these important tips to know and discuss with your landscape maintenance contractor.

Defensible Space
Defensible space creates a separation zone between wildlands and structures, a space where fuel is managed or modified to minimize the spread of fire to the structure and providing space for defending structures from burning vegetation. This space is commonly referred to as a fuel modification zone, or FMZ, and is the most important way to prepare your property for fire season.  A property developed defensible space can reduce the likelihood of structural damage caused if a fire should occur. Maintain a defensible space of a least 100 feet or more from any structure or building. In this zone, all flammable vegetation or other combustible growth is managed to reduce the threat from wildfires. This management usually includes removal of light fuel and grasses, keeping all trees and landscape well pruned, sufficiently spaces, and healthy to eliminate fire damage within the defensible space area.

Brush Management/Abatement
Areas beyond the 100-foot defensible radius from structures above might also need abatement. These areas can be in a limited building zone or LBZ.  An LBZ is a protective buffer that surrounds a biological open space area and is different from a fuel modification zone discussed above.  The FMZ and LBZ may completely overlap, partially overlap or not touch at all. 
Brush is the native and non-native grasses and plants that grow wildly in Southern California canyons, hillsides, and open spaces. These very dry light fuels and cause the most danger for wildfire. If ignited these areas fueled by pervasive wind can burn hot and fast. Mowing, the use of livestock, or other mechanical means to reduce the thickness in these areas can be part of your overall strategy. This abatement is typically done annually just after the spring and before summer. If these areas are intended to remain in a native state, are part of a bird nesting habitat, or are otherwise protected check with your biology consultant for timing guidance when these areas can be maintained.

Firescaping/ Fire Safe Landscaping
This landscape design practice aims to reduce the vulnerability of property to wildfire while maintaining an aesthetically pleasing planted look. The goal is to develop landscape with a design and choice of plants that offer the best defensible space while enhancing the property. Some points to consider when installing Firescaping
  • Plants should be properly irrigated.
  • Dead leave, branches, and other debris should be regularly removed/maintained.
  • Firesafe landscapes should include hardscape, such as pathways and stone walls, which slow down and can change the path of approaching the fire.
  • Proper maintenance throughout the year will reduce fire fuel near your property.
  • Chose plants that have high water content are slow growing, don't accumulate leaf litter, and have open branching habits.
  • Avoid high fire propensity plants that, although green, is very flammable due to resinous sap.
  • Keep a minimum 10 foot spacing from tree limb branch tips. If the slope is steep, this spacing must be increased.
  • Use a fire-retardant spray on all open mulched areas.

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