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Protecting our homes from wildfire

Submitted by Linda Judge

Mohawk Vista resident

On October 6, Chuck Bowman, Graeagle Fire Protection District Firewise Lead and Gail Slavik, Mohawk Vista Firewise Lead, conducted a Firewise sponsored educational tour of 3 homes/properties in Mohawk Vista for a group of local residents. Throughout the tour, Chuck provided information on good practices for fire safety and suggestions for how to make our homes more fire safe. Some key points that were discussed during the tour include “defensible space” and “home hardening”.

The defensible space is the buffer between a building and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surrounds it. This space is needed to slow or stop the spread of wildfire and it helps protect a home from catching fire – either from embers, direct flame contact or radiant heat. We discussed the fact that embers (small pieces of burning material that can travel more than a mile ahead of a wildfire) are the biggest risk to our homes from wildfires. They can create spot fires when they land on combustible materials, such as leaves in your gutter or plants under our windows.

Chuck described the “Defensible Space Zones” and recommendations for each zone.

Zone 0 – the “Ember Resistant Zone” is 0 feet to 5 feet from buildings, decks, and other structures. Zone 0 should include noncombustible materials such as rock, stone pavers, cement, bare earth, gravel, or sand. All plants and shrubsnear windows, leaves and needles from your roof and rain gutters that fall in this zone as well as dead branches thatoverhang or touch your roof, should be removed. In addition, anything that could catch fire from around and under decks needs to be removed. We learned that beginning in January 2023, a new law requiring an Ember-Resistant Zone (Zone 0) within 0 to 5 feet of a home will come into effect. Insurance companies are likely to drive enforcement of this new law.

Zone 1 – the “Lean, Clean and Green Zone” extends 30 feet from buildings, structures, decks, etc. or to the property line, whichever is closer. Recommendations for Zone 1 include:

  • Removal of all dead or dry leaves and pine needles from the Zone in yard, roof and rain gutters;
  • Removal of all dead plants, grass and weeds and remove or prune flammable plants and shrubs near windows;
  • Keep dead branches 10 feet away from any chimney and trim trees regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees.
  • Create a separation between trees, shrubs and items that could catch fire, such as patio furniture, wood piles, swing sets, etc., and move wood piles to Zone 2.

Zone 2 – the “Reduced Fuel Zone” extends from 30 feet to 100 feet out from buildings, structures, decks, etc. or to your property line, whichever is closer. Recommendations for Zone 2 include:

  • Cut or mow annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches.
  • Create horizontal space between shrubs and trees and vertical space between grass, shrubs and trees.
  • Remove fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones, and small branches to a depth below 3 inches.
  • Keep soil clearance of a minimum of 10 feet in all directions around exposed wood piles.

Outbuildings and Liquid Propane Gas (LPG) storage tanks shall have 10 feet of clearance to bare mineral soil and no flammable vegetation for an additional 10 feet around their exterior.

See, https://www.fire.ca.gov/dspace/

Also discussed was “home hardening” against embers, flames, and heat. Home hardening includes retrofitting our homes with fire-resistant materials. Home modifications include replacing wood or shingle roofs with a Class A composition, metal, clay or tile roof  and keeping the roof clear of pine needles and plant debris. Chuck explained that: (1) vents create openings for flying embers and we should cover all vent openings with 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch metal mesh, not fiberglass or plastic mesh which can melt and burn; (2) eaves should be boxed in (soffited) and protected with noncombustible materials; (3) rain gutters need to be kept clear of pine needles and plant debris; (4) heat from a wildfire can cause windows to break and dual-paned windows with one pane of tempered glass will reduce the chance of breakage in a fire; and (5) firewood storage should be away from the house with short term storage on deck or in the garage after fire season

A more detailed description of “home hardening” may be found at: https://www.readyforwildfire.org/prepare-for-wildfire/get-ready/hardening-your-home/.

Plumas County has survived the 2022 fire season without a major fire incident to this point, however, warming temperatures and severe drought make it more important than ever that we create defensible space around our homes and work on home hardening.

The Firewise Communities Program offered through the National Fire Protection Association teaches people living within the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) how to adapt to living with wildfire by preparing for a fire before it occurs. Firewise empowers communities with tools and resources to reduce wildfire risk and encourages neighbors to work together. Firewise Community members enjoy access to good fire insurance, which includes a 5% discount from some insurance companies. The Firewise program is co-sponsored by the USDA Forest Service, the US Department of the Interior, and the National Association of State Foresters. A list and map of Plumas County Firewise communities can be found at: https://www.plumasfiresafe.org/firewise-usa.html.

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