Originally Published: June 22, 2018 6 a.m.
We had a delightful rain this past weekend, however, with our continued dry conditions and lack of moisture our area still exhibits prime conditions for a fire. It’s just the perfect formula — it is not a matter of “if,” it is a matter of “when” our region will be faced with a forest fire.
We are facing severe drought conditions right now that will become more severe unless the monsoons can roar in like a lion. The time to prepare for the fire season is now, a year-round reality in Yavapai County and we should all be on high alert for the threat of wildfire throughout the year. The column this week addresses what Firewise means and how you can take the necessary steps to safeguard your home should a wildfire occur.
PLAN & PREPARE
Each year, wildfires consume hundreds of homes and studies have indicated that as many as 80 percent of the homes lost to wildfires could have been saved if their owners had followed only a few simple fire-safe practices.
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 are subject to wildfires, fueled by a build-up of dry vegetation and driven by the season’s hot, dry winds. These fires are extremely dangerous and impossible to control. 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.
CREATING A BUFFER
Defensible space is the topic this week. 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 1 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.
What is defensible space? Defensible space is the required space between a structure and the wild land 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 due to direct flame or radiant heat. Defensible space is essential for structure survivability during wildfire conditions.
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 lead litter from the 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. The vegetation type, the amount of vegetation 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 wise and fire resistant.
A plant’s moisture content is the most important factor governing its volatility. However, resin content and other factors in some species keep them flammable even when the plant is well watered. Conifers (a large group of resinous, cone-bearing trees and shrubs) such as pines, firs, spruces, junipers and Arizona cypress tend to be flammable because of their oil and pitch content, regardless of moisture status or content. Many invasive weeds can also carry fire. Two of the main wildfire culprits in our area are cheat grass and red brome. These species dry out just as wildfire season approaches so it’s a good idea to cut them down and remove before they set seed especially, on larger properties.
Deciduous (a term used to describe trees or shrubs that drop all their leaves to survive a cold or dry season — not evergreen) plants tend to be more fire resistant because their leaves have higher moisture content. Also when trees drop their leaves in the winter, there is less fuel to carry fire through their canopies.
In some cases, drought tolerant and fire resistant are related. Drought-adapted plants that have smaller leaves or very succulent leaves that store water can provide drought tolerance and increase fire resistance in your landscape. Plants that are more resistant to wildfire have one or more of the following characteristics:
They grow without accumulating large amounts of combustible dead branches, needles or leaves. They have open, loose branches with a low volume of total vegetation. They have low resin content. They grow slowly and do not need pruning. They are short and grow close to the ground, such as small wildflowers and non-coniferous groundcovers. Most annual, biennial and perennial flowers have fire-resistant characteristics.
The plants nearest your home should be more widely spaced and smaller than those farther away. Plant in small, irregular clusters and islands, not in large masses. Breaking up the continuity of the vegetation with decorative rock, gravel, and stepping stone pathways creates a horizontal fuel break. This will slow the spread of fire across your property.
Landscaping and the plants in it must be maintained to retain their Firewise properties. Rake up and dispose of excess litter as it builds up over the season. Remove annual plants after they have gone to seed or when the stems dry out. Mow or trim grasses within your defensible space. Use rock mulch to conserve moisture and reduce weed growth. Avoid pine bark, thick layers of pine needles or other materials that can easily catch fire.
All fire departments and landscapers that are certified in defensible space clearing will inspect your property and home and provide you with a complimentary prescription plan addressing hazard mitigation and planning process to make your home and property fire wise. prepare, protect and beware.
The Yavapai County Contractors Association (YCCA) has several landscape members that have completed the Firewise landscaping course and are approved for clearing and management of defensible space and can provide prescriptive plans for landscaping 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.
Remember to tune in to YCCA’s Hammer Time every Saturday and Sunday morning at 7 on KQNA 1130 AM, 99.9 FM, 95.5 FM or on the web at kqna.com. Listen to Sandy and Mike talk about the construction industry, meet your local community partners and much more. What a great way to start your weekend!