by Charlene Burgi
October is a time we typically think of pumpkins, falling leaves and crisp cool evenings leading us toward winter. However, it is also the peak of fire season—a time when summer suns have dried the tall wildland grasses adorning the beautiful hills and valleys we call home. It is also a time when humidity drops and winds flare up, potentially creating a perfect storm—a firestorm. Tragically this is what we are now witnessing.
Discussing which bulbs to plant for spring or how to prepare the garden for winter is difficult for this blogger when many of our families, friends and co-workers living in Sonoma, Napa and Solano are suffering the ravages of fires. Our thoughts are with them.
In the past, I worked with CalFire on educating the public about creating defensible space around our homes. The beauty of our north counties is thanks in large measure to the expanses of open, vegetated lands. Living alongside these open spaces requires due diligence on our part to study our properties, address fire hazards and create buffers to protect our homes. We can’t anticipate or prevent every emergency, but we can take steps to reduce our risk.
There are two types of wildland fires: ground fires and crown fires. Ground fires typically are grass fires where the flames stay low. These fires tend to move more slowly going downhill than uphill. If your property sits on a slope, take topography into account when creating buffer zones—you’ll need to maintain more defensible space than those living on flatlands. Try cutting a wide swath and clearing the annual grasses across the back of your property to help curtail a fire from entering your domain. (Remember that mowers can start fires, so wait for cool, moist days and use caution.) Well-irrigated, fire-resistant plant material or noncombustible material such as rock or pavement can be used as an interface in these areas.
Crown fires are the second type of fire and more difficult to manage. To help prevent a ground fire from climbing into the crown, limb up all trees to at least ten feet from the ground. Remove all dead and dying vegetation including dead limbs within the trees. Create space between limbs as well as between plants to reduce fire spread.
Keep driveways clear for fire equipment to access your property. This includes overhead tree limbs. And note if a fire truck can turn around or drive through the property.
For more information about creating defensible space, visit: firesafemarin.org/defensible-space
One more word of advice: Fire pits seem to be the rage these days. If you are considering one, safety is mandatory. Check local regulations to learn what type of construction is permitted. Clear the surrounding area of all vegetation, especially overhead. Create a non-combustible area around the fire pit and store fuel well away from the area. Use a fire screen to capture any embers that may escape. Only use the fire pit when the wind is calm and the humidity is high. After enjoying the ambiance of the evening, douse the fire with plenty of water. Do not leave the fire unattended.
Be not only water wise, but fire safe.