Northern California has Driest First Quarter in 50 Years
Mike DeMars-Fire Inspector, Central Fire Protection District
Are you ready for wildfire season? According to CAL FIRE, Northern California has had the driest recorded winter three-month (January, February, March) period in fifty years. These reports reflect what is present in Santa Cruz County with extremely dry conditions during that time frame. Many fire departments are preparing for a fuel driven fire season. Rainfall early in the winter months supported vegetation growth. Now that the rains have stopped, that vegetation will dry out, die and become potential fuel for wildfires.
What can you do about wildfires? As with any disaster prevention advice, having a plan before the disaster happens is essential. Homes located in the rural area are most vulnerable in the event of a wildfire.
A defensible space of at least 100 feet is the law and the key to protecting your home against a wildfire. A defensible space is a natural barrier created around your home to prevent fire from reaching it. It is a way to reduce and remove combustible materials around your home that would add fuel to and spread a fire. During a major wildfire, firefighting resources may be overwhelmed and unable to protect every home in the fire area. Creating a defensible space can be an effective method to protect your home.
How can you create a defensible space? The steps are:
- Remove, reduce or replace flammable vegetation such as dead trees, shrubs or weeds
- Trim existing vegetation. Tree limbs should be cut back to at least ten feet from any buildings. Limbs should also be cut to create a minimum seven-foot space from the ground.
- Vegetation should have any excessive growth trimmed.
- Flammable vegetation should be replaced with indigenous species that are more fire and drought resistant.
How big should the defensible space be?
One hundred feet in all directions from your home is the legal distance. If your property does not extend to one hundred feet, you should create a defensible space as far as the property line. The one hundred foot space is divided into two sections.
The Lean, Clean and Green Zone — the first thirty feet.
In this area, existing vegetation should be green and growing. Excessive growth should be trimmed and dead vegetation removed.
The Reduced Fuel Zone — The remaining seventy feet of the 100-foot Defensible Space.
Trees and shrubs in this area should be planted far enough apart so that they do not contribute to the spread of fire. Existing trees and shrubs in this area should be trimmed to create space between them. All dead trees and vegetation should be removed from this area.
What else can you do to protect your home from a wildfire?
- Firewood should be kept at least thirty feet from any structures.
- Vegetation should be cleared ten feet in all directions from theses piles.
- Propane tanks should be installed away from structures with a ten-foot clear space. The size of the propane tank will determine the safe distance from your home. Your propane provider can determine this distance.
- Maintain emergency water storage tanks and hydrants on your property. The tanks should be kept full at all times. Valves on tanks and hydrants should be exercised regularly to prevent seizing.
- Make sure that roads and bridges are clear for emergency vehicles to access your property.
- Maintain roads and driveways in good condition.
- Clear any excessive vegetation from the edges of roads. Ten feet of clearance on either side is recommended.
- Bridges should be tested and certified by an engineer that they will hold the weight of an emergency vehicle (usually twenty five tons).
What are some other fire safety tips for rural locations?
- Make sure that your address is visible. The numbers should be posted on your home facing the road. If you cannot see them from the street, post your address numbers at the entrance to your driveway as well.
- Store a three-day supply of food and water for your family in the event that you are unable to leave the area.
- Have an emergency plan for your family if you are ordered to evacuate the area.
- Ensure that smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are present and working in your home.
- If you have a residential fire sprinkler system, maintain and test it regularly.
These are some tips to protect your home and family during wildfire season. More information about fire safety can be obtained from your local Fire Department. A publication titled “Living With Fire in Santa Cruz County” can provide more information about defensible space and wildfires. It is available from Santa Cruz County fire agencies.