Landscaping Lessons | Preparing for wildfire season – Santa Cruz Sentinel
This is part 1 of 4 in this series.
As the frequency, size, and concern increase, the California wildfires are heating up for the summer. Coupled with one of the driest seasons we’ve had on the Central Coast in years, the flames are blazing high and wide as we make our way into 2021.
We are finding that forest fire prone areas can expand beyond rural areas and quickly spread to city limits. This growing vulnerability increases the responsibility of each individual to prepare and maintain their property for fire protection. Cal Fire has already fought hard to put out more than 3,400 forest fires that burned 19,000 acres this year, and that’s just the beginning. They predict an increasingly heavier fire season for 2021. As the community focus shifts from lockdown to summer travel, it’s important to prepare your property now.
Fireproof landscapes are not just about maintenance, but the whole mindset of design, construction and maintenance for homes and businesses in high risk areas. Protect your home and community by developing and maintaining the landscaping on your property using these safety rules.
Create a defensible space
In order to slow or stop a fire from spreading in your home, a buffer must be set up. This means deliberately removing the dead vegetation that surrounds your building and deliberately designing the floor plan. In accordance with state law, all structures and homes require 100 feet of acceptable spacing. As Cal Fire (readyforwildfire.org/prepare-for-wildfire/get-ready/defensible-space/) explains, the design of this defense consists of several zones.
Zone 0: With the passage of Assembly Bill 3074 in 2020, a “Zone 0” was created, which requires the Forestry and Fire Protection Committee to create a new regulation for a “Ember Prohibition Zone” that is within 0-5 feet of everyone located building or house by 2023. The good news is that there is already a lot of information about this zone that we can use to be proactive in our fight for fire safety. While not yet required by law, science has shown that this zone is vital in defending a home against forest fires.
Zone 1: 9 m from “Lean, Clean & Green”. This first line of defense includes keeping tree branches 3 m apart, removing dry needles and leaves from your roof, gutters, or yard, and removing dead weeds, grass, or plants. Wood stacks should also be moved from Zone 1 and Zone 2. It is also important to remove any trees or branches that are within 1.5 m of your building to prevent the fire from easily spreading to your house or building.
Zone 2: 30-100 feet “Reduced Fuel”. The second zone requires both horizontal and vertical clearances between grass, trees and shrubs. Grass should also be mowed or trimmed to a maximum height of 4 inches. Prevent a vertical “fire escape” by making sure all large trees have 6 foot of vegetation underneath. When mapping horizontal plant and tree spaces, keep in mind that the size of the plants and the steepness of the slope also determine the required spacing between them.
Fireproof plants and landscaping
In addition to choosing your country with fireproof logs, choose special materials and plants that are more resistant to fire. Neither plant is fireproof, but certain types that retain moisture and grow near the ground are safer options. A bonus is that some of these plants can also be drought tolerant, so you’ll save water too. Strategic placement and spacing are important to consider; the further apart, the better. Construct walls, decks and patios to create a line of resistance against fire. These seemingly small changes in landscaping can make a huge difference in your home’s battle against deadly flames. If you can build walls out of concrete, stone or metal and protect the underside of all decks with metal screens to keep embers from blowing down.
We live in one of the most fire-prone communities in the Golden State and it is now more urgent than ever to educate ourselves and our neighbors about preventive measures. It is possible to achieve a landscape that looks both fire retardant and dazzling.
The most important part of any fireproof landscaping is being aware of your current situation and taking decisive action to improve it. If you need help maintaining acceptable room standards or installing a landscape that promotes fire safety, contact Cal Fire, your local landscaping company, landscape architect, or arborist consultant.
Check back next week for the Landscaping Lesson Prepare for Wildfire Season, Part 2, which delves deeper into alternative options you can use in your landscaping and adjustments you can make in the zones of your home to accommodate the Increase fire protection.
Justin White is CEO of K&D Landscaping, headquartered in Watsonville, California, and was named Business of the Year 2020 by the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce. White is also the current president of the local California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA) on the central coast. He is involved in several nonprofit organizations across the community. For more information on landscaping, outdoor and gardening needs, please contact K&D Landscaping at kndlandscaping.com.