9 Landscape Maintenance Tasks Critical to Mitigating Fire Dangers
May 7, 2020. By Oscar Ortega: Brush clearance due dates were pushed back during Safer at Home, but, sadly, that’s no indication of lower fire dangers. In fact, CalFire expects yet another high fire danger year. We know policy makers and emergency management are working hard to plan ahead for potential evacuations. We must also do our part. Beyond the brush clearance guidelines, here are day-to-day maintenance tasks that mitigate danger or increase safety.
Get Out of the Gutter
While our minds are frequently in the gutters during rainy season, gutters should not leave our minds when it is dry! Flying embers use dry leaves, needles, and other material to build heat sufficient to ignite a home. It’s critical to keep these catching points clean.
Keep It Clean
“Clean” requires fresh eyes in to be fire wise. We are all in the midst of garden projects and using our gardens like parks through Safer at Home. Putting away tools, toys, “enjoyment” features like cushions and umbrellas, and most especially fuels when not in use, minimizes trip hazards and the opportunity for embers to ignite these incredibly flammable materials. Of course, it is also wise to sweep and rake away dead or dry material in areas adjacent to the home with frequency, and quickly place remove these materials to green waste containers.
Weed Out Arsonists
Dry grasses are ready tinder for fire. Arson grasses, in particular, pose dangers to us all – they not only can quickly take over a garden space, they love using any open dirt in our gardens to cut their path into the wild spaces they then light up. Weeding a little day by day can be fun – these tips make it easy! Easy or onerous, its incredibly important as we approach fire season.
Mulch for Hydration
Adding mulch to planted areas and barren pathways keeps soil hydrated and cool, prevents weed growth, and increases plant health and hydration – when it’s the right kind. Beware of inorganic mulches like shredded tire and petroleum products, which are highly flammable. Landscape fabric can pose the same issue and may offer embers hiding places as well.
Go Long, Stay High
Keep your mower height a bit high and allow cut grass to mulch your lawn. This will keep your lawn hydrated and protect it from the summer heat. Cutting too low can leave the lawn functioning like an “ember bowling alley,” hard enough to let embers roll and bounce toward a home. It will also leave ugly dry patches.
Uplift and Edit Shrubbery
Hydrated, healthy foliage can protect homes from fire, acting as “catcher’s mitts” for errant embers. The best method for maintaining shrub health is structural pruning, where dead and damaged shrub material is removed strategically and systematically. This requires leaving the chain saw in the garage and picking up the pruning sheers.
Protect Tree Canopy
Trees often take the blame for bringing wildfire to a home. They rarely get the credit they deserve for protecting property. Healthy, hydrated trees can catch flying embers before they can reach our homes. They present the least danger and protect us best when limbs are kept at a distance from homes, particularly roofs and eves, and when we assiduously protect their health.
Most trees need supplemental water in summer, structural pruning in late fall, and protection of their roots by minimizing anything, like gravel or stones that that might heat or compact the soil around them. Refer to our tree care timeline for a detailed list of to-dos and to-don’ts. Note that no level of maintenance will truly make a palm tree fire-wise.
Keep up the Tech
Smart irrigation and outdoor lighting are critical to garden health and safety. Pay attention to tells that your smart irrigation system needs adjustment, and quickly address issues if you see foliage flag or dry. Know how to work this system remotely – wet materials don’t burn, and keeping your landscape hydrated helps protect both your home and those who may be on-site to save it. Quickly replace lights that amplify visibility along walkways and drives for their benefit and yours.
Fire-Up with Care
Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits are in high demand and can be some of the most delightful garden features. It’s important to design, build, maintain and use them safely and sustainably. From a maintenance standpoint, this means checking with your municipal and fire agency for location-relevant guidelines, keeping it free of debris, checking valves to ensure they are shutting off completely and not leaking gas, and staying with the fire until it is out.
Consistently taking these 9 actions ensures you, your property, and our fire fighters will be as ready as possible for fire season, which is now 365 days a year.