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By Jeff Rebischung

Many of us in Sonoma County live in areas where houses are nestled into grasslands, riparian areas, woodlands, and forests. Even homes within city limits adjoin large areas of vegetative fuel capable of transmitting fire. These homes are truly connected to, and are a part of the wildland fire fuels. If it burns, it is fire-fuel. Most people think only of how the wildlands threaten their property, imagining a fire burning toward their home. However, our homes and our activities around the home can also be the cause of a wildland fire, or continue to carry a fire through our property and to our neighbor’s homes.

Landscape plant selection and manner of arrangement of those plants really does matter. We are all counting on you to learn more about fire safety and still have fun while you create beautiful surroundings this summer. The choices you make matter to you, and to your neighbors – – whether two legged or four, feathered or furry, fishy or froggy, this is home for all of us. As humans, we all need to work together to make a more fire wise community.

Fire-wise Landscaping

How we landscape around our homes is an important part of overall fire preparedness. Contrary to how it might sound, your property doesn’t need to look like a military fire-base, with a 1000 yard perimeter of bare mineral soil and sand-bagged buildings. A gradual thinning of vegetation is scientifically sufficient, and it looks better too. It’s quite easy to have a representative sampling of native species blended in as you begin to create your personal landscape with a full range of color, texture, hue, shade, and tone in your palette. Of course, flammability, size, spacing, and the continued maintenance of the plantings is important to consider when adding your own artistic flair, along with slope, aspect, contour, prevailing wind, and adjacent buildings.

Many personal landscapes that have become fire safe through good plant selection and spacing have achieved soft transitions from the native landscape – they seamlessly join and accent the wildlands that envelope the personal areas of the property. There is such a wide variety of succulents, heathers, perennials, and shrubs to choose from here in Sonoma County, that it is easy and fun to create a fire wise landscape plan that is also water wise. It just takes a bit of knowledge and planning. While expert advice is always recommended, a good starting place for any homeowner, or for new landscape professionals, would be to check out this publication available online by FireSafe Sonoma: http://www.firesafesonoma.org/main/sites/default/files/living_with_fire.pdf

Cal-Fire and the Sonoma County Office of Emergency Services impose minimal vegetation management requirements, and the building industry now has improved construction techniques and materials such as ember-resistant vents for your home. Regardless of requirements however, we should all do our best to ensure our homes can stand alone unattended and unassisted in a fire if possible. There are a lot of BTU’s in a house – your house – – enough to catch the next house on fire. In a large fire event, you will be unlikely to have fire trucks parked at your house to defend it.

Remember the multitude of large area fires in recent years? At some point, it will be our turn for tragedy. YOU are our best citizen firefighter – – by being the citizen who plants a fire wise landscape, who completes definitive pre-fire vegetation management work, and who retrofits and improves buildings with improved products and techniques where possible. And, if you are in doubt about what you can do, ask one of the many professionals who deal with pre-fire planning to help you. We are all willing tohelp.

Jeff Rebischung, owner of Fine Tree Care, is a Tree Service Contractor and Licensed Timber Operator. He has designed and implemented vegetation management plans in Wildland Urban Interface areas, has worked with Open Space Management Committees for Homeowners Associations to implement Fire Wise Communities, and consulted for non-logging vegetation management plans in order to protect Timber Protection Zones in Sonoma County.

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