Now that spring is over, all of the grasses and plants are drying out, and will be very dry very soon.
“We need to become a more FireWise place,” Dave Rudolph of Portola FireWise stated. “The western parts of North America are really fire adapted landscapes of vegetation that are also very fire adapted. Some think that fire and conifer trees have a symbiotic relationship.”
According to Rudolph, the trees need fire to thin them out and remove the competing brush and other trees, or the accumulated fuels get to be too much, and a fire will burn most of it with terrible results.
“The tree reproduction and the encroaching brush create a hazardous situation,” Rudolph explained. “Add in the mature tree overstory of the small trees and brush and we can have a scenario for a catastrophic wildland fire. And now we can add in homes, subdivisions and cities!”
What do we need to do? Rudolph states that everyone in the community can reduce wildfire risks around their homes. “Start with your home and work out from there,” Rudolph explained.
“Remove all pine needles, cones and leaves from the roofs and gutters. Trim any limbs away from the roof and chimney by 10 feet. Check on roofing materials; metal or composition are good roofs. If you have any cedar shake roofing or siding remove it as soon as you can, because it is highly flammable.”
After the roof and gutters are clear, Rudolph stated that work should continue around the edge of the building. “Remove dead vegetation, pine needles, cones, leaves and branches,” Rudolph noted. “Work out 30 feet from the structure for lean, clean and green.”
He also recommended to clean walkways, porches and decks. If firewood is kept stacked next to the house, it is best practice to move the pile out 30 feet away from the structure for fire season. “Woodpiles need to be 30 feet away, and you can move the wood in a little at a time,” Rudolph smiled. “Last winter I used a toboggan to bring in wood.”
Grasses from 30 to 100 feet out, or to the property line in densely populated neighborhoods should be trimmed or mown down to 4 inches.
Creating horizontal spacing between shrubs and trees reduces the risk of ladder fuels, with nothing to carry a fire up into the trees.
“In our neighborhoods here, it would be best if we removed most all of the brush species and thin out the small trees to an optimal spacing,” Rudolph said. “In our ecosystem, the mature tree spacing should be 20 to 30 feet between trees.”
In pre-history, this spacing was maintained by natural fire, according to Rudolph, so if you have a hedge of small pines pick the tallest, healthiest ones and remove the rest.
These clumps of small trees will burn very vigorously adding to rate of spread, flame length, vertical development and spotting distance, a bad result.
Removing bitterbrush and white sage will also great reduce fire behavior. Both of these species are extremely flammable, due to drought resistant oils in their systems.
“Bitterbrush is the one that just got through flowering all yellow with pollen everywhere,” Rudolph noted. “This covers the FireWise clearances for vegetation. As a community I hope we can cooperate and assist each of our neighbors with good clearances.”
“Here’s hoping we will all have our clearances completed before long if not already finished!” Rudolph added. “After these are done, we need to think about hardening the structure from wildfire exposure. Use fire-resistant materials in construction and in maintenance projects around the house and enclose soffits and screen in openings.”
Rudolph also noted that at some time, a local property may be exposed to an oncoming fire front and warns all to be prepared for that contingency.“The first thing is to have your FireWise clearances done to protect your home. Make an Emergency Evacuation plan, become familiar with evacuation routes, have a meeting place, have a plan for pets and livestock, and build a family communication plan to keep in touch during the emergency,” Rudolph suggested.
It is also prudent to assemble an emergency supply kit with a few days’ supply of prescriptions, a three-day supply of non-perishable food, and three gallons of water per person.
Other important items to prepare include a change of clothes, a first aid kit, flashlight, radio, batteries, extra car keys, credit cards, cash, sanitation supplies, important documents, pet food and water.
It is to be hoped that this never occurs in our community, but Rudolph warns that residents may have to be evacuated for safety in the event of a fire. “This is usually handled by law enforcement. Please try to follow evacuation orders promptly,” Rudolph said.
Rudolph added that there is now a local online resource for the community called Nextdoor.com, and that FireWise hopes to utilize that platform for messages, information and alerts. “Check it out and sign up,” Rudolph invites.
“We are having a community outreach to discuss all these things, build awareness and community,” Rudolph closed. “We will be at the Portola Veterans Memorial Hall on Saturday, July 13, starting at 9 a.m. Come on down!”
All in the community are welcome to join the discussion and work together to keep the city of Portola and surrounding areas safe from fire during the fire season.