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Learn the art of firescaping and defensible space, Part I

The American West is ablaze. Wildfires are raging in every state along the West Coast and in almost every state from the Pacific to the Rocky Mountains.

Land, homes, lives and whole communities are lost. As my pen brings these thoughts together, over 3 1/2 million acres have burned to date, more than any other year, and now millions of people are breathing toxic air from these fires.

It is not just that entire weather patterns are changing, but there many other factors that come into play while observing the big picture. California residents have changed the natural landscape to hold wildfires back. They have moved into the mountain ranges and built their homes among these native landscapes.

The weather patterns and drought conditions have changed and engulfed their lives in multiple ways, and what was the norm is no longer. Many Native American people learned to live a more favorable relationship as "earth stewards" with nature. We should learn from them and reevaluate our lifestyles to be in harmony with our surroundings.

When the summer monsoonal clouds come from the south and erupt into some 11,000 lighting strikes in just a few days, showering down onto a kindling box of dead and dying trees, something is bound to explode.

The forests are dying due to the dry conditions but also invasions of the Western bark beetle are killing the trees up and down the state, and it is not a good scenario.

For those living in Fallbrook, it has its pros and cons with constraints and great opportunities. Fallbrook is known, both for our native and exotic trees from all around the world, and the rolling hills are dotted on all fronts with the native vegetation, but that greenery comes with a price. I remember the fires in 2007 that ravaged the village and its outlying areas, including the Lilac Fire.

Consider using a few essential firescaping ideas around your home. Review your property and make a "to-do list" with some of these ideas and make a plan for your home, property, street, community and beyond. Have a to-go bag packed and find places to go if needed.

First, take a walkabout around your home and inventory what exists, what is rubbish and combustible debris and what you can do to eliminate or lessen the fuel load.

Look at all the trees, shrubs, plants about your home, and ask, "is this potential fire fuel?" It could be time for some cleanup.

Remove firewood stacked at the back door to bring into the house in the wintertime as it is a combustible fuel and a few blowing cinders can ignite that stacked firewood and start a fire against the home.

Look at the trees surrounding your home. Are they dead or brown and ailing from the recent past heatwave or bug invasions?

Look for tree branches that are leaning over the roof or the chimney.

Do you have a spark arrestor in the chimney? Have you cleaned out your fireplace and chimney recently? A single spark can be explosive.

Are your landscape trees clean, without "fire-ladders" where low-lying dead plants can start below and transfer up through the trees canopy? Tree evaluations are important in learning about fire potentials.

Are there fire hazards around your property that can be removed and hauled off to the dump? Residents clean their homes, so shouldn't they consider landscape cleaning once in a while, rather than just mow, blow and go?

Do you have a functioning irrigation system where plants are watered and healthy rather than dying from lack of watering?

If you compost with organic materials, keep it away from the house area.

Create a maintenance checklist to clean and tidy around your home. It's all about landscape stewardship and taking a little extra energy to reduce risks around your home.

Rake leaves from around the house and tidy up flammable debris.

Remove branches hanging over the roofline. Clean out the rain-gutters from debris and consider "gutter-guards."

Do not use gasoline-powered equipment around dry brush or plants as the hot muffler can ignite a fire while working or if laid down on dry weeds.

Have safety fire-extinguishers around your home and make sure they work and are fully charged.

Have a height clearance at the entrance to your driveway of at least 14 feet so fire trunks can enter your property safely.

Make sure your home address is visible from the street entering your property.

Ensure your home fire alarms are working with fresh batteries and change them once a year.

I will return with more information on firescaping in the next issue and discuss the home with the landscape zone factors plus defensible space around your property, so stay tuned.

Roger Boddaert can be reached at 760-728-4297 or bogitt@ for consultations on firescape landscape designs and land stewardship.


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