It’s been almost 26 years since a massive fire ripped through the Oakland hills, killing 25 people and destroying nearly 3,500 homes. The 1991 disaster remains fresh on the minds of many long-time residents, and some local experts believe that conditions in the area could be ripe for a similar catastrophe.
While the 1991 fire led to some improved local policies that includes fireproof materials on homes and improved readiness, there remain several dangerous issues. The area is stuck in a drought, and the highly flammable eucalyptus trees that largely fueled the 1991 blaze have since regrown.
While the city, county, and some local groups wage war over the means necessary to rid the area of flammable materials, homeowners can take some simple steps to protect their individual properties from a fire. Here are several ways that you can direct your landscaping and yard cleanup activities to prevent dangerous fires.
As a homeowner or renter, you should make sure that your property remains clean and tidy. For the sake of fire prevention, this means that you consistently remove dead plants, shrubs, and trees. It’s also important to keep the grass mowed and shrubs pruned. If there is any debris on the property, it should also be removed.
Create Defensible Space
Not only do you want to create a safe zone around your property, but California law also gives some homeowners direction about a home defense zone within 100 feet of the home. According to the California Public Resources Code §4291, homeowners must remove and clear away all flammable vegetation and other combustible growth within 30 feet of the home. A single tree or shrub can remain as long as it is pruned and well-spaced.
You are also required to keep a “reduced fuel zone” in the remaining 70 feet or out to your property line. This means that you create space between your plants and remove plants from beneath large trees.
Landscaping and Proper Selection of Plants
As you landscape and care for your lawn, you should remove any tree branches that are below six feet from the ground. Place only fire-resistant plants in your yard and water them regularly. Mulch might be useful to maintain moisture in your gardens, but it’s important to note that it will also burn. Avoid using wood or bark mulch within three to five feet of your home. Use colored stones or some other flame resistant material instead.
When you create your fire safe home landscape, you should also create breaks with hardscape materials. This includes using stone walls and pathways that can act as a fuel break to slow down, stop, or change the direction of a fire.
No one wants to think about a fire occurring at their home, but history shows that this sort of tragedy can happen in the blink of an eye. Make sure you’re ready with some emergency preparedness steps in advance. Have your water hoses and fire sprinklers ready and easy to access and your personal exit plan in place. Also, contact your local fire department and ask them if there is anything else that you can do to be prepared.
With some proper planning and the right landscaping around your home, you can ensure that you and your family are as safe as possible from the fire dangers in your area.