Start California Fuel Modification in Spring

Spring is the best time to perform fuel-modification maintenance for fire protection planning as vegetation starts to dry out.

Michael Huff, Dudek’s fire protection planning manager said, “Fuel maintenance should focus on dead and dying plants, highly flammable species, dense vegetation, and ‘ladder’ fuels that reach tree canopies, and should start at the structure and move outward.”

“Each site’s unique terrain, vegetation, wind exposure, and structure vulnerability determine the fire risk and how wide a defensible space needs to extend from structures,” Huff said. “One hundred feet is the standard in many jurisdictions, but very hazardous sites may require more than 200 feet, while flat landscapes with predominantly grass ground cover and an ignition-resistant structure may justify reduced defensible space.”

Where 100 feet of defensible space isn’t possible, a fire protection plan can justify use of alternative materials and methods that will allow a fire authority to determine that equivalent protection is achieved.

While many ordinances refer to clearing vegetation, effective fuel modification does not necessarily mean clear-cutting the defensible space. Proper fuel modification strategies include selective thinning of vegetation to reduce fuel load and remove the most flammable species, and planting fire-resistant plants to reduce fire risk while maintaining vegetative cover for erosion control.

Habitat Restoration Sciences (HRS) is a landscape construction firm specializing in native habitat landscapes and fuel modification. Mark Girard, HRS president, offered the following tips for implementing fuel modification plans:

  • Remove, thin or replace combustible vegetation
  • Plant adequately spaced, drought-tolerate, and fire resistant plants
  • Comply with U.S. Fish & Wildlife regulations when working in sensitive areas
  • Be aware of bird nesting and breeding seasons
  • Install and manage irrigation, understanding how it functions in vegetation management in defensible space
  • Be knowledgeable about seasonal erosion issues and their effect on vegetation management

“When fuel modification is required in areas with native plant species, it is key to have trained staff who can implement vegetation thinning and maintenance while complying with local, state, and federal agency regulations,” Girard said.

Michael Huff ( manages Dudek’s fire protection planning service. Mark Girard ( is president of Dudek’s subsidiary, Habitat Restoration Sciences, a habitat restoration construction firm.