As vegetation starts to dry out after heavy winter rains, spring is a critical time to perform fuel modification for fire protection planning ahead of the hot and dry summer. “Focus on reducing the amount of fuel available to a wildfire by removing dead and dying plants, highly flammable species, dense vegetation, and “ladder” fuels that reach tree canopies,” said Michael Huff, Dudek’s principal fire protection planner.
Start removing vegetation at the structure, and then move outward. Each site’s unique terrain, vegetation, wind exposure, and structure vulnerability will determine the fire risk and defensible space needed. The standard radius in many jurisdictions is 100 feet, but very hazardous sites may require more than 200 feet; flat landscapes with mostly grass ground cover and an ignition-resistant structure may justify less defensible space. Where 100 feet of defensible space isn’t possible, a fire protection plan can justify using alternative materials and methods to achieve equivalent protection.
Consider Fuel Modification Alternatives
Effective modification does not only mean clear-cutting the defensible space. Proper fuel modification strategies can also include selective thinning of vegetation to remove the most flammable species to reduce fuel load. It is important to break up the continuous fuel to interrupt fire pathways. “Think of the plants as a wick that can facilitate fire onto your property and toward your home,” said Huff. “The goal is to interrupt the fire’s path by selectively removing plants.”
Kevin DiSabatino, President of Habitat Restoration Sciences (HRS), Dudek’s habitat construction arm said, “When fuel modification is required in areas with native plant species, it is vital for fuel modification to be performed by trained staff who can implement vegetation thinning and maintenance while complying with local, state, and federal agency regulations.”
Additionally, you can establish fire-resistant plants to reduce fire risk, while maintaining vegetative cover for erosion control. Specializing in native habitat landscapes and fuel modification, DiSabatino offered the following tips for implementing fuel modification plans that include plant establishment:
- Ensure selected plants are drought-tolerant, fire-resistant, and adequately spaced;
- Install and manage irrigation so that new plantings don’t dry out; and
- Avoid removing too much fuel or fuel in the wrong places, which can result in exposure of soil to rain and runoff-induced erosion.