Another year of devastating wildfires drives need for defensible space
Arizona has fared reasonably well in the past year, helped by an above average monsoon rainfall, forestry officials’ mitigation and land management of our forests, and the Prescott Area Wildland Unban Interface Commissions (PAWUIC) support of 34 communities that have focused on Firewise recommendations for fire safety around their homes and forest boundaries.
However, the above average monsoon rain has increased the yearly forest and community undergrowth substantially, increasing the potential for more wildfire activity in 2019.
California has had three straight years of catastrophic wildfires with Paradise being the costliest in both life and property to date. Due to California’s green policies there are millions of acres still at risk. The forest for millions of years managed itself with small fires performing a regular cleansing process. Then man decided to build developments up to and into forest locations. In this new structure-based environment when fires started, they were promptly put out, which in time changed the character of the forest, it gradually changed from a limited number of big trees to many small trees, and grass undercover to dense brush. This has changed the fire profile from small fast-moving low intensity ground fires with limited forest damage, to large high intensity ground and canopy fires that generate dense ember production that through fire induced high wind conditions creates a fast-moving devastating natural disaster to the forest and surrounding communities.
For all of us living in the Prescott Wildland Urban Interface this is the time to prepare for the 2019 wildfire season. Much of the fire prone brush has faded into winter decline, when it is thinly populated and where dead content becomes easier to see and remove. Landscaping resources also are more available and less costly during this period; or you can do it yourself.
The objective is to create a defensible space around your home; a space that will reduce the transfer of ground fire, limit canopy embers from igniting a home’s structure, and reducing radiant heat combustion levels.
The magnitude of the fire problem depends on the vegetation type. Grass and weeds burn quickly, creating low-intensity fires with flame lengths of up to 8 feet; not enough to bring down trees. Chaparral, on the other hand, consists of shrub species, such as mountain oak, mountain mahogany, manzanita and other highly flammable oil-based vegetation that can create flame lengths of up to 47 feet and capable of igniting trees for a full-fledged fire disaster.
Effective fire suppression tactics for fighting fires are based on a fire’s magnitude and composition. At less than a 4-foot flame length, shovels and axes are effective; between 4 and 8 feet heavy equipment such as bulldozers support fire crews; 8 to 11 feet requires airtankers and helicopters to reduce the fires rate of spread before fire line crews and bulldozers can be effective; and above 11 feet direct suppression efforts are ineffective; crews have to retreat to natural fire brakes such as roads, streams and other natural barriers and create a defensible line.
As always proactive fire management is a lot more effective than reactive fire suppression. Many fire authorities are now actively performing mitigation programs in national and local forests, which help reduce wildfire activity and intensity.
However, a number of communities and individuals are still in denial as to the need for wildfire mitigation. One large development in Prescott that has a very high-risk fire rating, and is located in an extremely high fire risk location, and is a Firewise communities’ member HOA that has been unable to take action and mitigate dense vegetation because of objections from a non-resident developer who has overriding CC&R control.
In summary a little landscape maintenance can save a lot of heartache later; just ask those in Paradise. For a set of examples on how to make your real estate investment better prepared to survive a wildfire, look up the Firewise recommendations at www.Firewise.org, or download https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5339207.pdf for an excellent booklet on a “Homeowners Firewise Guide for Arizona.”
Paul Scrivens lives in Prescott and is a Firewise Certified Assessor. Contact him at email@example.com.