August 13th, 2005
There’s no sure way to protect your home from a raging fire, but there are some things you can do to minimize the risk. If you live next to native brush or chapparal- near a canyon, for example- take these steps to protect your property.
-Keep the landscape close to your home well-watered. Don’t grow such flammable plants as pine trees close to your home or allow them to overhang your roof. (Shrubs and trees with lush green leaves, like pittosporum, are recommended for green belts.)
-Don’t mound shrubbery close to your house. Shrubs should be spaced apart from each other and kept low. For safety from fire when houses are close together it’s best to have no shrubbery between them.
-Create a buffer zone. A well-watered green area of low-growing plants can act as a firebreak between you and the chapparal. The buffer zone should be at least 30 feet wide on flat ground and progressively wider as slopes get steeper. Walls, rocks, patios, rustic seats, and wandering paths can be part of the landscaping. Use plant materials that have proven their ability to withstand some fires, such as succulents and cacti. Coarse carpobrotus iceplant is not recommended, but rosea iceplant is. (Ask your local UC Cooperative Extension Office or the California Department of Forestry for additional information and plant lists.)
-Manage the existing brush. Go right down into the chapparal and remove the fuel load from inside. (Be on the lookout for poison oak, rattlesnakes, and sudden drop-offs in the terrain.) The buildup of dead leaves, twigs, branches and weeds in the understory is what makes the hottest fires. You may have to use a chain saw. (Keep a fire extinguisher and a shovel close at hand in case of sparks.) Cut out and haul away or chip and compost all of the dead stuff that builds up inside native shrubs. Leave all the green growth, on the outside. When you’re finished you’ll have a wonderland of usable space for birds and other wildlife that inhabit our precious chaparral.