Ask the contractor: Homeowners are best defense against wildfires
We recently purchased a home off Williamson Valley Road and we understand we are in the Wildland Urban Interface and do have a fire sprinkler in the home. There is a tremendous amount of over growth landscaping, trees and bushes in the yard. Recently, we heard about firewise landscape. What is that?
— Mark and Mary, Prescott
Many people assume that when a wildfire starts, it will be quickly controlled and extinguished. This is an accurate assumption 97 percent of the time. For most wildfires, firefighters have the ability, equipment and technology for effective fire suppression. Three percent of the time wildfires burn so intensely that there is little firefighters can do. Even air tankers and helicopters cannot be expected to save every home in these cases.
Much of the Southwest is considered a high-hazard fire environment, and Prescott and our surrounding wildland urban interface area is no different. Our area does possess all of the ingredients necessary to support large, intense and uncontrollable wildfires. Within this hazardous environment are individual homes, subdivisions and entire communities. Many homeowners, however, are ill-prepared to survive an intense wildfire. It is not a question of “if” a wildfire will occur but when. As such, with our growing population, the odds of losing life and property are growing.
Defensible space is the modification of landscape design, fuels and building materials that make a home ignition caused by wildfire unlikely, even without direct firefighter intervention. The size of defensible space is usually expressed as a distance extending outward from the structure and all attachments such as a deck. This distance varies by the type of wildland vegetation growing near the house and steepness of the terrain.
For example, if your property is on flat land surrounded by grassland, your survivable space distance will extend out at least 30 feet from the sides of your home. If you home sits on a 25 percent slope and the adjacent wildland vegetation is dense or has tall brush, you will need to reduce hazardous fuels out to at least 200 feet of your home.
Creating survivable space around your home is one of the most important and effective steps you can take to protect you, your family and your home from wildfire. All vegetation, naturally occurring and otherwise, is potential fuel for fire. Plant choice, spacing and maintenance are critical; where and how you plant can be more important than which species you use. Some important things to remember about plants are:
▶ No plant species is totally “fireproof.”
▶ Moisture content is the most important factor influencing flammability.
▶ Plants with high resin content tend to be most readily flammable.
▶ Many native plants in arid environments, such as manzanita, juniper and pine are resinous.
▶ Deciduous plants tent to be most fire resistant, because leaves have high moisture content.
Our local fire departments and our local landscapers have information on firewise plant species that are appropriate to our area and many of our landscapers are certified and trained in firewise zone landscaping.
WHAT IS DEFENSIBLE SPACE? Defensible space refers to that area between a house and an oncoming wildfire where the vegetation has been modified to reduce the wildfire threat and to provide an opportunity for structural protection without risking homeowner or firefighter lives.
DOESN’T THE FIRE DEPARTMENT PROTECT MY HOME FROM WILDFIRE?
During a major wildfire, it is unlikely there will be enough firefighting resources available to defend every home. In these instances, firefighters will likely select homes they can safely and effectively protect. Even with adequate resources, some wildfires may be so intense that there may be little that firefighters can do to prevent a house from burning. The key is to reduce fire intensity as wildfire nears the home. Consequently, the most important person in protecting a home from wildfire is not a firefighter, but the property owner. It is the action taken by the owner before the wildfire occurs that is critical.
WHAT IS FIREWISE? Firewise is a mind-set and action of overcoming the challenges necessary for communities in our fire-prone ecosystem to live with wildfire. Firewise is a multi-agency program that encourages the development of defensible and survivable space and the prevention of disastrous wildfire.
Fire season is now a year-around reality and we should all be on alert. Our fire departments take every precaution to help protect you and your property, but YOU must also take personal responsibility. Please understand the impact a fire could have on you and be adequately prepared.
The following is the vegetation management plan requirements that should be implemented and maintained for your home.
0-10 feet from buildings, structures, decks, etc.
▶ Remove native brush from under trees.
▶ Trim all trees to where the lowest branches or canopy are above the roofline.
▶ Tree canopies shall be a minimum of 10 feet apart.
▶ Trim or prune shrubs/vegetation to a maximum height of 2 feet and provide a clear space around each plant of a least 4 feet. Shrubs that normally grow taller than 2 feet shall be removed rather than being improperly pruned. Exception: Cultivated ground cover does not require clear space.
▶ Remove all dead materials.
▶ Remove all combustible materials and vegetation from under decks.
▶ Remove native brush and grass within 10 feet of buildings, structures, and decks.
10-30 feet from buildings, structures, decks, etc.
▶ Remove all ladder fuels by trimming, pruning up or removing vegetation from under trees. Distance to the lowest tree branches shall be a minimum of 3 times the shrub height.
▶ Trim tree limbs a minimum of 6 feet from the ground.
▶ Tree canopies shall be a minimum of 10 feet apart and no closer than 10’ to any structure, unless trimmed above the roofline.
▶ Reduce the continuity of fuels by removing dead material and removing/thinning shrubs so that a person can walk between them. Creating islands of shrubs/vegetation for wildlife habitat is recommended.
▶ Cut grasses to a maximum of 4 inches above the ground level.
▶ Where vegetation is greater than 4 feet in height, create a clear space around each plant (or group of plants), twice the height of the plant in width.
▶ Remove the top or most recent layer of undecomposed (light colored) pine needle or leaf droppings. The underlying darker, decomposing material should remain undisturbed.
30-150 feet from building, structures, decks, etc where no slopes exist.
▶ Remove all ladder fuels by trimming, pruning up or removing vegetation from under trees. Distance to the lowest tree branches shall be a minimum of 3 times the brush height.
▶ Remove all dead materials.
All vegetation fuel modifications shall extend to the property line, where required. Defensible space shall be maintained at least annually. Optional planting of fire resistive vegetation shall be irrigated. For questions concerning the requirements, call Prescott Fire Department Wildland Division at 928-777-1700.
With the assistance of our fire departments; Chino Valley, Central Yavapai Fire, Dewey-Humboldt and the City of Prescott and many certified landscapers you can achieve a more fire-safe environment for you and your family.
Sandy Griffis is executive director of the Yavapai County Contractors Association. Email your questions to her at email@example.com or call 928-778-0040.