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Get Your Landscaping Ready for Fire Season

Whew! We can breathe a sigh of relief now that the official three year drought is over. But don’t get complacent, because fire season is here and can be more threatening than we realize. If you are continually battling tenacious weeds, like I am, you have probably discovered all that rain caused a huge increase in vegetative growth. The summer heat has arrived and all that vegetation will quickly dry out and be a serious fire threat. In fact, this month our Governor issued an order giving state agencies and departments additional resources in anticipation of a possibly very destructive wildfire season.

We are all responsible for doing our part to decrease fire threat. Two of the most important things we can do are to make our landscaping “fire safe” and to create 100 feet of ‘defensible space’ around buildings. Defensible space is the area between a house and a possible oncoming wildfire and consists of 3 zones. Here are important tips for each zone.

Zone 1 – Home Ignition Zone: the first 10 feet extending outward from the building.

  • Keep house vents clear of vegetation.
  • Use only irrigated and short herbaceous plants (non woody stems), ground cover and lawn.
  • Eliminate tree limbs within 10 ft. of the house, deck or chimney.
  • Don’t use wooden trellises next to the house.
  • Keep wooden decks clean – even pine needles can build up in the cracks between boards.

Zone 2 – Lean, Clean and Green Zone: up to 30 feet away from the house.

  • “Lean” refers to only having a small amount of flammable vegetation.
  • “Clean” means there is little or no accumulation of dead vegetation or flammable debris.
  • “Green” specifies that the landscape is kept healthy, green and irrigated during fire season.
  • For most of us, the Lean, Clean and Green zone is our residential landscape.

Zone 3 – Reduced Fuel Zone: 30 feet to 100 feet from the house.

  • This area may be larger then that for you, depending on the slope of the property.
  • Increasing the size of your zone 3 on a slope can diminish the “fire ladder” – where fire can travel uphill as it naturally does.

The following guidelines not only apply to Zone 3, but to Zone 1 and 2 as well.

  • Removing fuels: Eliminate dead and dying shrubs and trees, dead weeds, fallen branches and pine cones. Remove pine needles and dead leaves over 3″ deep.
  • Reducing fuels: Prune dead limbs and lower branches from shrubs and trees and keep any dried grass mowed. Keep a distance of 10 ft. between large trees and maximize space between tree canopies where it’s feasible. Wide spread areas of flammable wood bark or wood mulch should be separated with plants or hardscape where it’s practical.
  • Replacing fuels: Substitute dense shrubs with less flammable plants. Many deciduous trees and shrubs are good because they have a lower fuel volume when dormant and higher moisture content when in leaf. Consider using pavers, rocks and gravel as replacements where it’s realistic.

Other important points:

  • Minimize the use of highly combustible coniferous shrubs and trees such as juniper, pines and plants with resinous sap, volatile oil, wax or pitch.
  • For trees taller than 18 feet, remove lower branches within 6-10 ft. of the ground.
  • Maintain landscape by regularly watering where needed and removing dead branches, leaves and needles.
  • Remove vegetation within 10 feet of woodpiles and stack the wood at least 30 feet from all structures.
  • Maintain 10 feet of clearance on exposed sides of LPG tanks (butane and propane).
  • Move or remove all stacks of construction materials and other flammable debris.
  • Use caution when operating equipment like lawnmowers – one spark may start a fire. It happened to my neighbor!
  • Remember you must get a burn permit for controlled burns and burn only on allowed days and times. Burn permits were suspended July 1st.

By making some of these changes in your yard maintenance, you can easily decrease your chances for fire. Do your part to protect your family, your home, and the beautiful forest we all share in the Mother Lode.
For more information, refer to the Highway 108 Fire Safety Council: http://www.tuolumnefiresafe.org or Cal Fire: http://www.fire.ca.gov/.