Originally Published: February 23, 2012 9:59 p.m.
It is not a matter of if but a matter of when our Prescott basin will be faced with a forest fire. We are dealing with moderate drought conditions right now that will become more severe as summer approaches. The time to prepare for the fire season is a year-around reality in our area, and we should all be on heightened alert. Over the next few weeks, our columns will talk about what "firewise" means and how you can take the necessary steps to safeguard your home should a wildland urban fire occur.
Each year, wildfires consume hundreds of homes in the wildland urban interface, and studies have indicated that as many as 80 percent of the homes lost to wildfires could have been saved if their owners had only followed a few simple fire-safe practices. Our very own fire departments take every precaution to help protect you and your property from wildfire. However, the reality is that in a major wildfire, there will simply not be enough fire engines or firefighters to defend every home.
Successfully preparing for a wildfire requires you to take personal responsibility for protecting yourself, your family and your property. Our brush-covered hills, canyons and forests burned periodically long before we built homes there. Wildfires, fueled by a build-up of dry vegetation and driven by the season's hot, dry winds, are extremely dangerous and impossible to control. We saw this 10 years ago with the Indian Fire.
Many residents have built their homes and landscaped without fully understanding the impact a fire could have on them, and few have adequately prepared their families for a quick evacuation. Through advance planning and preparation we can all be ready for wildfire.
Defensible space is the topic for this week. Prescott has a very large wildland urban interface zone, and it is important that you provide firefighters with the defensible space they need to protect your home.
What is defensible space? It's the required space between a structure and the wildland area that, under normal conditions, creates a sufficient buffer to slow or halt the spread of wildfire to a structure. It protects the home from igniting because of direct flame or radiant heat. Defensible space is essential for structure survivability during wildfire conditions.
The buffer zone you create by removing weeds, brush and other vegetation helps to keep the fire away from your home and reduces the risks from flying embers. A home within one mile of a natural area is in the ember zone, and ember fires can destroy homes or neighborhoods far from the actual flame front of the fire.
Creating defensible space does not mean that your landscape has to be barren. A defensible space is an area, either man-made or natural, where the vegetation is modified to slow the rate and intensity of an advancing fire.
Defensible space is divided into zones:
Zone One: Extends 30 feet out from buildings, structures, decks, etc. All dead or dying vegetation should be removed. Trim tree canopies regularly to keep their branches a minimum of 10 feet from structures and other trees. Remove dead litter from yard, roof and rain gutters. Relocate wood piles or other combustible materials into Zone Two. Remove combustible material and vegetation from around and under decks. Remove or prune vegetation near windows. Remove "ladder fuel" (low-level vegetation that allows fire to spread from the ground to the tree canopy). Create a separation between low-level vegetation and tree branches.
Zone Two: Extends 30 to 100 feet out from buildings, structures and decks. You can minimize the chance of fire jumping from plant to plant by removing dead material and removing and/or thinning vegetation. The minimum spacing between vegetation is three times the dimension of the plant. Again, in Zone Two, remove all "ladder fuel." Cut or mow annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches. Trim tree canopies regularly to keep their branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees. To help you remember to create survivable space, remember LEAN, CLEAN and GREEN. Lean is pruning all shrubs and cutting back tree branches keeping them away from the home. Clean is removing all dead plant material from around your home, and Green is planting fire-resistant plants and vegetation that will remain green all year long.
All vegetation, naturally occurring and otherwise, is potential fuel for a fire. Its type, amount and arrangement can have dramatic effects on fire behavior. There are no "fireproof" plant species. Plant choice, spacing and maintenance are critical; where and how you plant can be more important than what species you plant. However, given options, select plant species for your landscape that are more fire resistant. Next week will we talk about selecting fire wise plants.
Our Prescott Fire Department and the Wildland Urban Interface Team will inspect your property and home and provide you with a complimentary prescription plan discussing hazard mitigation and a planning process to make your home and property fire wise. PREPARE, PROTECT and BEWARE. Call 777-1700 to schedule an inspection.
YCCA has several landscape members who have completed the fire wise landscape course and are approved for clearing and management of defensible space and can provide prescriptive plans for landscape as well. It is important to remember that in a wildfire if firefighters determine that your home is not defensible they may, in the interest of their safety, not attempt to save it.
Yavapai County Contractors Association (YCCA) is a professional association representing licensed, bonded and insured contractors, suppliers, distributors and business entities. Call YCCA for information on hiring a contractor at 778-0040. Submit questions to email@example.com or through www.ycca.org.