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Learn the art of firescaping Part II

In my last writings on the art of firescaping, I gave a broad overview of some basic concepts to this vital subject for you and yours to consider around your home, and phase II will expand on that.

In years past, we would think of the autumn months as the most important time of year to be aware of fires after a hot and dry summer.

This is no longer the case for the fire season has extended throughout the year's calendar due to the unique climate and weather changes occurring globally.

With this said, our attention and awareness must be on-guard all year long to protect our homes, loved ones and property.

When urban development meets the vegetated native landscape or wildlands, this area is defined as the "wildland/urban intermix."

The Santa Ana winds used to rise to dangerous conditions in fall, but now they can erupt at any season of the year. These winds and flammable components have spread flames and cinders far from their source and into developed neighborhoods.

The following are some zone concepts on protecting your home and property to consider and to evaluate in the art of firescaping.

Zone 1 – Defensible Space

This is the most critical immediate space close to your home if you live in a fire-prone rural area. It is your yard and should be landscaped for leisure, enjoyment and fun but at the same time as a protective barrier to limit the spread of fire. It must be defensible if you expect fire crews to protect it when deciding which structures have a chance of being saved during a wildland fire.

· This is the right place for a green grass lawn and hardscape items like a paved patio area and nonflammable structures close to the house.

· Ornamental shrubs should be fire-resistant and no higher than 18 inches if close to the home, but you must remember anything will burn if conditions are favorable with fuel nearby.

· Use fire-resistant broadleaf trees for shade, but no pines, cedars, or juniper types high in volatile oils in zone 1 close to the house.

· Prune lower tree limbs 6 to 10 feet above ground level, for they are called a fire-ladder, and flames can be transferred from the ground level up to the canopy of trees.

· Minimize or avoid the use of wooden fences and trellises and never attach them to the house. If the fence catches fire it can lead the fire to the house, acting as a wick to transfer the fire to the house.

· Zone 1 is significant and should be maintained throughout the year for your safety and peace of mind.

· Tall ornamental grasses should not be considered in zone 1, for they are highly flammable and sparks from grasses can be blown significant distances when conditions are right.

· Use high water content plants like assorted succulents, for they come in a wide swath of colorful types and forms and can be very striking when appropriately displayed. They mix well with boulders, cobblestone, gravels, and low ground covers.

· Go to your local garden center and ask for suggestions for your area to consider low fire-prone plants types out in the landscape.

Zone 2 – The mid-zone

This is the area for landscape trees, orchards and gardens, but not for wild, dense woodland vegetation. Proper spacing is very important between these plantings.

· Maintain space between ornamental or wild shrubs at least twice as wide as the diameter of the plants

· Prune all trees and raise the lower branches at least 6 to 10 feet from ground level in this area like in zone 1.

· Clearing out debris and dead plants is a must, which should occur throughout the year.

· It's all about proper landscape and garden stewardship

· Slopes also must be maintained, for wind drafts can blow the fire up slopes to your home very quickly if conditions are right.

Zone 3 – The outermost zone from your home

The outer perimeter should be no closer than 70 to 100 feet from the house on level ground; 200 feet is better.

· Thin your ornamental trees on your property so that crowns are separated by at least 10 feet.

· Raise the lower tree limbs, which can act as fuel ladders leading up to the top of trees and transfer the fire from tree to tree.

· Remove dead and dying branches, twigs, limbs of all types.

· Ladder fuels are created when the vegetation of different heights is close enough to allow a surface fire to become a tree crown fire.

· Take a survey of your property and do a periodic review of what you have, what are some fire hazards, and what can be achieved to lower the fire risk about your home?

A well-designed landscape is the first step toward reducing risk from a fire of any sort. Maintaining it properly is the second step, or all the planning and designing of a safe landscape will be for naught.

Landscape maintenance for fire protection is essential and is often forgotten, and landscape stewardship and care are very important.

It merely means keeping your grounds clean and tidy and being aware of hazards that lie around your home for your security and make a plan to do something about it.

If you have a gardener, educate him to these facts, for many are just a mow, blow and go service and have no idea about the art of firescaping, and remember you are paying for a landscape service – it is vital to communicate.

We must understand that our firefighters, no matter what agency they represent, put their lives on the line when fighting fires and protecting our homes and property. And some of our local firefighters are currently in Northern California with the wildfires that have burned over 4 million acres to date. So, be respectful and do what you can to reduce fire hazards about your home and property.

Remember that winter rains, when they do come, can germinate many types of weeds and it is essential to get those cut down in spring to lessen the amount of fuel load around your home.

You might stop by the North County Fire Protection District office at 330 S. Main Avenue and pick up some brochures that can expand your knowledge to be fire wise and safe.

So when you see these first responders here in town, give a nod of thanks and a gentle smile of appreciation for all that they do to protect and serve our little village of Fallbrook.

I have one more installment on Firescaping to share with you with some other items you can do around your home in phase III, so stay tuned.

Roger Boddaert is a certified arborist and ecological landscape designer who can help you in reviewing your property and can be reached at 760-728-4297.


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