Living in California means treating the entire year as one big fire season. Weed abatement and tree trimming should be regular activities and choosing fire-resistant plants for landscaping should just be the norm at this point. However, as we now that we are well into the official fire season, it is a good reminder to take a look at our defensible spaces and ways to harden our homes against potential wildfires.
As the drought worsens and increases the risk for wildfires to spread quickly, reducing the potential for wildfires and limiting the spread of fires as much as possible is even more important. If we reduce the spread of fire, we reduce the amount of water needed to fight that fire.
While there is no way to make your home completely fireproof or to create an impenetrable firebreak around your property, there are things we can all do to reduce the risk of losing our homes to fire. Here are six home-hardening options to get you started.
1. Follow weed abatement and Fire Hazard Reduction Program (FHRP) guidelines.
Okay, you don’t have much choice here. If you are one of the many property owners in Ojai or Oak View who get an annual notice from the fire department reminding you to abate fire hazards on your property and you don’t do it, they will send a contractor to complete the work, and then send you the bill with an added administration fee. This means the abatement is going to happen one way or another, but you can avoid the additional fees and make sure your home is safer from wildfires as soon as possible by taking care of this yourself and maintaining your defensible space throughout the year.
2. Clean your gutters and your roof.
We have all heard about homes that are lost due to windblown embers igniting the roof. The thing folks often do not think about is that it does not always matter what kind of roof you have. Fire-resistant roofing materials, such as tile, composition, cement shingle, or metal, are an important part of keeping your home safer from fires, but simply having a roof made from these materials is not enough. If your roof is littered with dry, flammable debris or your gutters are filled with dead leaves, these materials can ignite and increase the risk of losing your home to wildfire. Keep your roof and gutters clear of debris to reduce this risk.
3. Store firewood away from structures and vegetation.
According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), you should stack your firewood at least 30 feet from structures. Additionally, CAL FIRE recommends maintaining a 10-foot, vegetation-free area around your firewood storage.
4. Choose drought-tolerant, fire-resistant plants.
Water conservation efforts can make it more difficult to keep vegetation green and reduce flammability, so it might be time to consider replacing water-loving plants with native, drought-tolerant plants that thrive with little water.
There are no plants that are truly fireproof, but there are many that are fire resistant. As part of the FHRP, the Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD) provides their Plant Reference Guide to assist homeowners in choosing plants. The guide provides information on common ornamentals used in landscaping, including plants that should be avoided. The guide also includes information on each variety’s drought tolerance, which can help you find the best options for saving water and creating a beautiful yard that is fire resistant.
You will also want to refer to VCFD Standard 515 – Defensible Space and Fuel Modification Zones for spacing and maintenance requirements, as well as Guideline 410 – Prohibited Plant List to find out which plants and trees are prohibited in new required defensible spaces and fuel modification zones. The publication also encourages homeowners to remove these plants and trees from existing defensible spaces. You might be surprised at some of the trees on this list that are commonly found near structures here, such as olive and pepper trees, so this list is worth a look.
These publications can be found on the Ventura County Fire Department website at VCFD.org.
5. Choose fire-resistant patio furniture, cushions, and covers.
Whenever possible, choose patio furniture and textiles that are fire resistant. Unfortunately, this means avoiding some popular options, such as wood or wicker furniture and doormats and outdoor rugs made from natural fibers. Instead, choose options that are less flammable, such as rubber or metal doormats, metal furniture, and flame-retardant fabrics for cushions, awnings, and umbrellas.
6. Look for places where flammable materials may collect.
Flammable materials, such as leaves, twigs, and sometimes even trash, can accumulate under bushes, in shrubs, under decks, around the base of trees, or in corners. Find these spots in your yard and make sure to clear debris from these areas regularly.
AimeeJo Davis-Varela is a freelance writer specializing in real estate, sustainable home improvement, eco-friendly landscaping, green living and travel writing. She is also the owner of Mind Your Manors, which provides second home management services.
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