Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Is Your Property Ready for the 4th of July?

      You may be ready for the 4th of July festivities this Sunday...but is your property? Errant fireworks and barbecues may lead to wildfires scattered throughout the state this weekend, and the weather forecast isn't helping: sunny, temperatures in the upper 90's and afternoon winds.

     Hot, dry, windy weather combined with dead and dying brush create conditions that have led to conflagrations last year all over California, where wildfire season extends into October.

    Country dwellers and suburban residents whose yards may be ringed with overgrown weeds need to clear dry brush at least 100 feet away from their homes and other structures before the rocket's red glare begins Sunday evening.

The old standard was "30 feet of clearance". Now, firefighters are encouraging rural and suburban homeowners to remove weeds and other flammable material for a radius of 100 feet from primary dwellings.

    Some homeowners are listening, but not acting in a prudent manner. 
The start of many grass fires in California are attributed to sparks from a lawn mower or setting down a hot weed trimmer in flammable weeds. Those stories have already started appearing in local newspapers.

Some tips:
• Mow down dead grass and weeds early in the day, when the humidity is higher and the winds are calm. 

• Inspect the area before mowing, removing anything that may cause a spark to fly from a mower blade.
• Have a garden hose handy that can reach the entire area you're mowing.
• Don't leave hot equipment in the area while you take a break.
• Carry a cell phone or portable phone so you can immediately call for help if a fire breaks out.

    Although no plant is fireproof, there are many low-to-medium growing, high water content plants that, when carefully irrigated, could lower the risk of a spreading brush fire in future years that may threaten your home.

Besides a lawn, other good choices of high water content plants that can act as possible structure buffers for valley and foothill dwellers include
African daisy, agapanthus, aloe, dusty miller, gazania, ice plant, India hawthorn, yarrow and yucca.

     Avoid plants that can accumulate a lot of flammable, dead growth over a period of years.
Prime offenders are ivy, bamboo, pampas grass, fountain grass and coyote brush. Other trees and shrubs that should not be planted near structures include fir, acacia, cedar, cypress, eucalyptus, pine, spruce, the pepper tree, California sagebrush, hopseed bush, juniper, scotch broom and arborvitae, commonly called thuja. Palms, if their dried fronds are not removed, can also be quite a fire danger. If you have these plants already, get out the garden pruners and remove any dead branches and leaves.

    One more piece of advice from area firefighters for home owners in brush fire country: Many structures have a fence along one or more sides of the building that are less than 10 feet from the house. In order for firefighters to move easily through that area in an emergency, be sure not to block narrow pathways along the side of a dwelling with firewood or old household items.

Fire protection sprinklers for your property can be an investment that will increase the value of your acreage and out-buildings. There are many sprinkler design software systems available to help you do it right.

Two of the best resources for country dwellers, or anyone surrounded by fields of tall weeds who want to modify their landscape to keep their home fire-safe are the books, "FireScaping" by Douglas Kent; or, Maureen Gilmer's, "California Wildfire Landscaping".
And, check out Maureen Gilmer's website for even more "firewise landscape plants". 

Keep your pets and livestock safe this weekend, too. Loud fireworks may make them scurry through a broken fence, or out the gate and down the street. Keep dogs and cats indoors; repair and secure any fences and gates before the local outdoor shows begin Sunday evening. 

And if you are planning to enjoy the fireworks in another locale, make sure your home's automatic fire sprinkler system is working.


  1. I've already been to a few wildland fires this year. They've been about 50/50 arson or mower started. The fuels are getting drier each day. The grasses are really thick due to the late rains. It is going to make for some hot fast moving field fires this year.

  2. People don't want goats or sheep or horses as they do not "care" for the smell.

    They prefer the fires and to get reimburse by their insurance.