Seasonal Firewise Practices
by Dave Jaramillo
Hello Sierra homeowners. During each season, I will be writing an article coinciding with the release of our newsletter highlighting what you can do to better prepare your home and property for the coming fire season. There are simple steps you can take to help reduce the likelihood of your home igniting during a wildfire event. Taking a little time to perform some easy and essential corrective measures can go a long way in making your home fire safe and allowing you to rest a little easier during the height of fire season.
Spring: April- June
The days are getting longer and warmer, the trees are budding out, streams are surging, birds are singing, and the wildflowers are turning the hills into colors that only nature is capable of producing. What a great time of year! But remember that we have some essential work to get done. Thankfully we got some essential work done in the winter months, (see the previous Seasonal Firewise Practices by Dave the Forester) which will make our workload less during this season. Let’s get started.
If your yard is anything like mine, the warmer days surged life back into every rooted organism. This surge of life has caused our grasses, trees, and shrubs to grow (almost out of control in my case) very rapidly. This type of vegetation, if left unattended, can pose a serious risk as the season progresses and the days get even hotter causing them to wilt and dry-out. This is a great time to get out, prune back some of the newer growth, and mow those lawns. Mowing lawns (be very careful when using power tools because they often produce sparks – either by the blade or the engine) causes many fires so be sure to mow early enough in the day when there is still condensation on the grass. If your landscaping consists mainly of fallen pine needles or other such material this is a great time to rake that material completely from the first 5 feet surrounding your home, deck -under the deck as well, barn or any other building.
If you’re like me you are very excited to get back out into you yard after a cold wet winter. As you get out there it is my recommendation that you once again check for the effects (broken branches, leaves and dead limbs) of winter storms. By taking some time to remove this type of material you are reducing the risk of fire spread for yourself and neighbors. If you are in an area where burning is permitted be sure to make sure that it is a burn day by calling your local fire department and to use great caution when burning as many large fires have been started by unattended burn piles. These materials can be composted (if they are small enough) and/or chipped (using your local Fire Safe Council FREE chipper program). To find out more about your local FSC and their services and/or to get involved visit our Fire Safe Council webpage.
Remember to focus on potential ignition sources on your house. Start with your roof and move your way down. Remove flammable debris from your roof and gutters as this could ignite by firebrands during a fire. Check all of your vents and make sure that they are covered with at least a ¼ inch metal mesh to help reduce the likelihood of a firebrand entering your home. Remove flammable material from exterior window seals and other areas where winter weather has caused deposition of such material, this includes decks, fences and the base of the structure. This work can be done fairly fast but be sure to spend some extra time checking inconspicuous locations that could put your home in danger if flammable material was left there.
This is a time of year when you will be spending more time lounging on your deck furniture, or in my case outdoor furniture. Most deck/outdoor furniture is relatively safe as far as fire ignition is concerned. What you do need to be concerned about are furniture pads and other flammable material that you may place on your deck and or deck furniture. This type of material may pose a great threat to your home if it is out during a fire. There is an easy fix to this potential fire risk. Bring these items inside when you are not using them (the furniture pads and other flammable materials). The added benefit of taking this simple action is that these pads and cushions will also last longer. This is a win-win to me. So go ahead and relax in the great outdoors on your comfy chairs, just bring the pads in when you’re leaving.
Last season we thought about what we would want to use in our landscaping, this season we get to actually have fun planting all the beautiful plants, fruits, and vegetables that will create a beautiful landscape for all to enjoy. Be sure to use Firewise plant choices when planting next to your home. You want plants surrounding your home to be very fire resistant and well irrigated. For recommended Firewise plants to use in your area you could contact your local Master Gardeners, visit the Firewise Communities website, and for the Sierra Nevada you could visit the El Dorado County Fire Safe Council website. Remember that you could have a landscape that is both appealing and Firewise by making the right vegetative choices.
I will leave you with this. Fire affects us all and does not discriminate or stop at property lines. We need to work together as communities and neighbors in order to protect ourselves. A community that works together will thrive and survive together. So let’s be good stewards of the land and our community and get out into our yards and do our Firewise work. And don’t be afraid to ask your neighbor if they need help while you are at it. A community is made up of good people looking out for each other and come fire season this is more important than ever. If you have any questions about the Firewise program feel free to contact me and I will be more than willing to help.
Have fun and be well.
Registered Professional Forester # 2839
Summer: July - SeptemberWe made it through a wonderful spring full of life and adventure...I hope that you had the chance to get out frequently to experience the wildflowers, budding trees, singing birds and of course the amazing fragrances of spring in the Sierra Nevada. This is a special time of year especially after a wet and cold winter and spring. The days are long and hot and the gardens are photosynthesizing, creating the energy necessary to produce those wonderful summer fruits and vegetables. Yet, it is the height of fire season, and we still have some important maintenance to do in order to better protect our homes and communities from Sierra Nevada summer fires. Remember that the Sierra Nevada is a fire adapted ecosystem and requires fire, so let’s continue our preparation. Let’s get started.
During the spring we did some early growth reduction in our yards as well as planted our summer gardens. This very important work will make it a bit easier for us to move forward in our fire mitigation efforts. If you are new to fire mitigation please see the previous Dave the Forester articles for tips and guidance on what you can do to better prepare for fire season. It is my suggestion that if you already completed your yard pruning and planted your garden that you now focus your time on maintainance. This maintenance involves a very small investment of your time and will repay you even if a fire does not occur.
The first thing involved in maintaining most yards is to keep the grass mowed and irrigated. As I stated in last season’s article, using power tools has lead to countless destructive fires so be sure to use these handy tools properly and with caution. I would suggest that you mow your lawn in the morning while there is still condensation on the ground. By mowing while there is condensation on the ground you will be reducing the likelihood of a spark catching the vegetation on fire, and remember that this happens very often. Many communities have a yard waste recycling service or you could compost your lawn clippings for future soil amendment. If composting or community recycling facility is not available in your area I would suggest contacting your local Fire Safe Council, as many FSC’s provide green waste dumpsters and or drop off sites. To find out more about your local FSC and their services and/or to get involved visit our Fire Safe Council webpage.While in the yard be sure to keep the garden watered as well as any vegetation that is next to your house. It is very important that vegetation close to your house be kept moist and growing. If you neglect this vegetation it will dry out in the long hot summer days and become very volatile fuel for the fire. Even the smallest vegetation if left unattended may pose a very serious threat to your house should it ignite during a wildfire event. Watering in the morning or evening is best because the water is absorbed more in the soil rather than evaporating before it can be of any use to the plant. Should you have specific irrigation questions or to learn how to set up a water conservation irrigation system I would suggest contacting your local nursery or master gardener.
As I mentioned in my last issue, deck furniture and flammable material around your house can pose a serious fire risk. Most deck/outdoor furniture are relatively safe as far as fire ignition is concerned. What you do need to be concerned about are furniture pads and other flammable material that you may place on your deck and or deck furniture. This type of material may pose a great threat to your home if it is out during a fire. Remember that you need to be prepared in the event that a fire starts when you are away for the weekend or out for the day, so take precautions with your deck furniture and other flammable materials before you leave. By removing furniture mats every time you are leaving you can greatly reduce the risk of your comfortable furniture burning your house down.
Summer is also a time when we tend to work on all of our home projects. While working on your home it is essential that you check your home for areas that firebrands can invade your home during a fire. Most homes burn down when firebrands ignite them during a wildfire. It is not the big flames but the small firebrands that may pose the biggest threat to your home. It is my suggestion that you first look at your roof. Make sure that your roof is clean and free of flammable materials such as pine needles and that it is constructed using class A materials and standards.
Next, check all of your vents and make sure that you have at least a ¼” metal mesh screen covering all of your vents. This screening will help reduce the likelihood of firebrands penetrating your home. If you have a deck it is also my recommendation that you first clean all flammable material from underneath and then screen with at least ¼” metal mesh. Finally I would recommend that you check your home for any other areas where fire brands can penetrate and fix as soon as possible, including garage doors, house doors and windows. By making your house as fire brand resistant and tight as possible you can greatly reduce the risk of your home igniting during a wildfire. Remember, it is not necessarily the big flames that pose the greatest risk, rather the very small fire brands that can make their way into the smallest of areas that pose the most substantial threat to your home.
Although we are enjoying summertime weather we all know that fall is coming soon. As we begin to prepare for the cooler weather let me leave you with some parting advice. Wood is a great way to heat our homes, but wood piles close to the home during fire season can pose a serious risk to our homes. Wood piles, after all, are fuel and it is best to leave this fuel at least 30 feet from our homes during the fire season. It is my advice that as you begin to stockpile wood and or wood pellets that you do so in a manner that keeps it away from your house. Woodpiles can also be a problem to your home should bugs from the pile make their way into your structure. So for these to reasons it is best to keep the piles stored well away from your house. Finally, make sure that before you start your first fall fire that you have your flu pipes cleaned and that you have a spark arrester on the top of the pipe so that fire brands do not fly out of your fireplace.
Fire affects us all and does not discriminate or stop at property lines. We need to work together as communities and neighbors in order to protect ourselves. A community that works together will thrive and survive together. So let’s be good stewards of the land and our community and get out into our yards and do our Firewise work. And don’t be afraid to ask your neighbor if they need help while you are at it. A community is made up of good people looking out for each other and come fire season this is more important than ever. If you have any questions about the Firewise program feel free to contact me and I will be more than willing to help.
Have fun and be well.
Registered Professional Forester # 2839
Fall: October - December
Well, we made it through another hot and exciting summer, unfortunately not without the loss of life and property. The lightning fires this summer were yet another reminder that we live in a fire-adapted and fire-dependent ecosystem. The smoke was disturbing, but a completely natural trend in California according to fire scientists. Fire scientists claim that prior to 1800 approximately 4.4 million acres burned annually in California. This amount of fire would put out substantially more smoke compared to the average of 250,000 acres that have burned annually in California in the last five decades. Since we live in this type of ecosystem we need to be ever vigilant of how we can actually live here. The National Firewise Communities / USA program gives us tools and guidance to help us live in these fire adapted ecosystems.
Fall is a great time of year to begin preparations for the next fire season. Whether it is a yard, tool, house maintenance or community collaboration, by getting little things done now you will be helping to minimize much needed work in the future. If your yard looks anything like mine, it is covered with leaves and needles due to the wind and rain. Of course the roof is also coated with this same material. It is my recommendation that you, or someone you hire, get on the roof and remove this material from the entire roof and especially the gutters.
Gutters are a vital part of the roof and if clogged will not function as designed. If the gutters are clogged, water can excessively drip from the roof causing erosion problems within the drip line of the structure. While on the roof take some time to inspect your spark arrestor on your chimney. If you do not have a spark arrestor you should have one installed before you start your first fall warming fire.
It is time to start raking up the leaves that have accumulated on your property, which in my case are falling as I write. If you live in a forested area that has completely natural landscaping I do not recommend removing all of the pine needles as they act as erosion control during storm events. In this case you should remove the needles directly surrounding the structure (within 5 feet) and maintain a needle and duff layer in the area beyond this. The accumulated needles will eventually break down and become soil. I recommend composting this material although many areas offer green waste collection and/or dumping if composting is not something you want to do. If composting or green waste dumping is not a good option burning is another way of getting rid of this material. Be sure to contact your local fire department and air quality district as permits are required as well as burn day clearance.
My next recommendation is to remove and store in a dry place deck furniture (especially mats), umbrellas, and other valuable deck and patio equipment. By removing and storing this type of material you not only minimize your fire risk but you will increase the longevity of the item. Even non-flammable items such as metal chairs should be stored in a dry place in order to extend their lifetime usage. Remember, this is about learning how to live here and adapting our lifestyles to be more compatible with nature.
If you haven't already done so, it is time to maintain and store garden equipment. If you read the winter addition of this article series you will notice that I talked about pruning. In order to properly prune you need to have good working tools. This is a great time of year to sharpen and oil pruning shears, pole saws, chainsaws and other lawn and garden tools. By doing this necessary maintenance you will extend the life of your valuable tools as well as create a safer and more useful tool for future firewise work.
Finally, it is my recommendation that you continue to collaborate and work with your neighbors and communities on future fire planning. This is a good time of year to plan for future fire mitigation and education events by getting involved at your local FireSafe council. A list of FSC's can be found on the California FSC website. If you do not have a local council I encourage you to begin the formation of your own council. Information on starting a council can be found on the state FireSafe Council website.
Remember that fire affects us all and does not discriminate or stop at property lines. Community collaboration is a key factor when planning for fire and may be the best way to ensure healthy communities and ecosystems. A community that works together will thrive and survive together so let's be great neighbors and do our work in order to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Please, if you have any questions about the Firewise program feel free to contact me and I will be more than willing to help.
Have fun and be well,
Registered Professional Forester # 2839
Winter: January - March
During the cold days of winter it is hard to think about fire other than to heat your home, but remember that fire season is just around the corner. As the days begin to get longer with the progression of the seasons there are several fire related items that we can be dealing with before the fire season is upon us and the jobs seem to cumbersome. During this time of year we need to focus on mitigation measures that will lessen the amount of work that needs to take place in the next quarter.
As cold winter storms drop snow in the high country and you are recovering from the holidays it is time to start some initial yard clean-up. As a result of windy winter storms, branches, leaves, dead limbs and in some cases whole trees have fallen down and accumulated around your property. I recommend that you take some time to remove this material, because it will pose a threat during the dry fire season. These materials can be composted (if they are small enough) and/or chipped (using your local Fire Safe Council chipper service). Many communities offer a curbside green waste pick up through the trash and recycling service, which is another option for getting rid of this material.
This is a good time of year to get your trees pruned as well. Make sure that you begin at the house and remove/prune any branches that are touching the house. You want to keep branches approximately 10 feet away from your structure so prune as necessary. If you have any questions or concerns regarding tree pruning you can also contact your local master gardeners or a certified arborist.
This season is a great time to begin thinking and planning community fuels reduction and fire safety projects with your local Fire Safe Council, neighbors, and/or community groups. To see what others have done you can visit Fire Safe Council websites or visit the Firewise Communities USA website for ideas. Remember, fire season is just around the corner. As the days get longer and the temperatures warm up you will want to start thinking about your landscaping and how you can make it as Firewise as possible. I will explain Firewise landscaping in more detail next time, but it does not hurt to start thinking about it. For more detailed Firewise landscaping ideas you can utilize the resources on the Firewise Communities USA website or talk to you local master gardeners.
Until next time, I encourage you to work with your neighbors, get your hands a bit dirty, and have some fun making your community a safer place to live. To become a certified Firewise Community feel free to contact me and I will be more than happy to help.
Have fun and be well.
Registered Professional Forester # 2839