Effectively reducing wildfire hazards requires a four-step approach:
- Assessing potential risks
- Developing a plan to reduce risks
- Implementing the plan
- Performing regular maintenance.
Proper execution, however, is laced with nuances.
Resource agencies and fire departments agree that there should be, at a minimum, 100 feet of defensible space between structures and the natural, unmodified wildland areas, depending on the fire resistiveness of the structure. But they don’t always agree on the approach.
Rather than simply clear cutting fuels, especially if your property is adjacent to a natural preserve, a more effective approach is to reduce fuels on trees and brush in a way that minimizes impacts to sensitive biological resources and provides an aesthetically pleasing yet effective fuel modification zone.
Building construction reviews and fuel modification studies are generally the first steps in reduction efforts. I recommend both types of studies for the most comprehensive results. Fire protection plans can vary based on the type of building construction. Typically, however, the plans will:
- Evaluate landscaping and identify necessary irrigation efficiency enhancements or modifications
- Identify highly flammable plants, exotic species, and plants with accumulated dead material
- Recommend strategic thinning and removal of individual plants and groups to achieve proper horizontal and vertical spacing and break up any “chains of fuel” that may be present
- Identify structures or other sensitive resources in need of protection
- Coordinate recommended fuel reduction work in wildlands with experienced biologists and fuel reduction contractors.
Before work begins on executing completed plans, do the following to minimize the need for future mitigation and avoid resource agency fines:
- Review older plans to ensure the site’s characterizations are unchanged, such as reviewing for the emergence of new wetlands
- Know where your property boundaries are so you do not remove fuels within preserves or off your property without a written agreement
- Check with online resources (single-family homeowner) that can help you determine whether sensitive plants or wildlife occur on your property, or preferably, hire a professional biologist (homeowners associations, communities, cities, etc.) to conduct an assessment
- Avoid bird nesting seasons (Migratory Bird Treaty Act) and wetlands impacts
- Coordinate with neighboring properties to provide fuel reduction continuity
- Maintain the newly defensible space on an annual basis or as-needed.
Properly implemented plans will weave through and around sensitive species while providing protection customized to the site’s risk. We essentially create a landscape mosaic that will provide the property owner with defensible space, provide wildland with enhanced habitat, and provide the community with aesthetically pleasing scenery.