Because it’s wildfire season, I recently spent some time driving around my neighborhood and one of the neighborhoods for which my department provides mutual aid. I was previewing homes to see which homes could stand alone in a wildfire; which would need some mitigation, but could be defended if need be; and which ones just couldn’t be defended. I’m happy to say that most of the homes fell into the first two categories. Unfortunately, there were too many homes that probably won’t survive if a wildfire blows through the subdivision.
Despite our attempts to educate homeowners, some people just refuse to thin the trees and clean up the undergrowth around their homes. I just don’t understand that attitude. I love trees as much as the next guy, but even ignoring the fire aspect, thinning your trees improves the health of the remaining trees, increases wild life viewing, and arguably adds curb appeal to your home. Then there’s the water issue. I’ve heard stories of folks who have reduced the number of junipers on their property and they were rewarded with the revival of long-dry creeks. True or not, we do know that a single juniper sucks up more than its fair share of water.
I’ve heard lots of different excuses from homeowners who don’t want to limb up and thin their trees. But consider this: in a wildfire, your home stops being a home and becomes nothing more than fuel. A fire that might run through as a grass fire now finds low limbs and climbs into the crowns of a thick stand of trees, changing fire behavior significantly. Now the fire is throwing embers that can easily catch the nearby home on fire. With this new, huge source of fuel, the fire grows even more, endangering other homes nearby.
Clearing vegetation around your home is critical, but there are even more things to consider when trying to ensure your home is wildfire ready.
When fire fighters assess a home, we also look at access. Can we get our big red truck in and, more importantly, out of your property without difficulty? If we come on your property, how quickly can we get out if things suddenly go wrong? Is there a nearby safe place for us to go if we’re running for our lives? If your home is defendable, but needs mitigation, how much work do we have to do to make your home safe? Will the mitigation take hours or minutes?
Your best bet is to make sure your home can stand alone during a wildfire. Even if the government agencies send help, there just aren’t enough trucks, fire fighters, or water to defend every home in a threatened subdivision.
On behalf of all the fire fighters that will be working on that inevitable fire, we ask that you do your part to keep your home, your family, and us safe.